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Priest tells of fighting in isolated CAR town

Al Jazeera receives an email from Bouar, a town almost totally cut off from the rest of the country for days.

Last updated: 21 Jan 2014 22:12
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Fighting in CAR, taking on increasingly sectarian dimensions, has displaced millions of people [Reuters]

Bouar is one of the largest towns in the Central African Republic. But it has been almost totally cut off from the rest of the country for days now.

With the phone networks in the western town out of action, there were only rumours of intense fighting and bitter exactions.

That was until Al Jazeera received a single email from Father Mirek Gucwa, a prominent and popular Polish priest in the town.

Mirek has been working in the CAR for decades. Recently, he has been sheltering both Catholics and Muslim civilians from the fighting.

He sent this account of the fighting in Bouar, which Al Jazeera cannot independently verify, and a desperate plea for help.

***

The third week of the new year has been the toughest and the most tragic in the history of the town of Bouar in Western CAR.
 
At the beginning of the week of January 13, anti-Balaka militiamen killed two Muslims; one in the neighbourhood of Haoussa and the other on the road to Bohong. We still don't know why. Two days later, on Wednesday, Seleka militiamen shot a resident of the village of Yongoro. The anti-Balakas did not give up.

They are our neighbours. We went to the same school, we played together and we grew up together in the same district.

Girl seeking shelter in a church

On Thursday, the anti-Balakas strafed a truck carrying Muslim families into the town.

It seems that Seleka fighters, on board the truck in civilian clothing, opened fire first. The toll was heavy.  More than 10 were killed and as many injured. Among them women and children.
 
This clash meant a scheduled negotiation meeting between the anti-Balakas and the Seleka could not go ahead.
 
On Friday, around noon, the anti-Balakas attacked the Seleka base. The firefight lasted three hours. The anti-Balaka attack was repelled. We don't know how many  casualties there were. Later the same day, the Seleka started setting fire to houses in the neighbourhood near the camp. We still don’t know how much damage was done by these "soldiers".

The local people took shelter in church buildings and at the seminaries. In the cathedral, there are now more than 3,000, more than 2,000 at another  church, as well as in the mosques. We don't know the exact number. There is no phone network anymore so communications are difficult. Only those who have satellite phones can keep in touch.

Young men armed

In recent days we have started seeing young men in the street, armed with machetes, firearms, bows and arrows.  They're Muslims and non-Muslims, out searching for Muslims and Christians.

One family sheltering by the church was attacked by their non-Muslim neighbours. The father and several other family members were injured. One of the girls told us: "They are our neighbours. We went to the same school, we played together and we grew up together in the same district."

The two groups of men claim to be Muslims or Christians. But in reality, they have no religion.
 
On Saturday, we woke up to news that the anti-Balaka were preparing a new offensive against the Seleka. They want to push them out at all costs.
 
We have managed to inform the commanders of the French and African Union forces, despite our communication problems. AU troops have been in Bouar since last October, but there are not enough of them to deal with the current crisis. 

A genocide here in Bouar is not out of the question, despite all the work of the community leaders here.

We urgently need the intervention of the French military and the UN. Otherwise, armed groups will keep causing chaos and the number of dead and injured will increase significantly.

The only way to avoid the massacre is a military intervention. That responsibility lies heavily on the shoulders of the military commanders.

We will keep praying that something will change.

671

Source:
Al Jazeera
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