Religious leaders seek calm in tense Central African Republic

December 12, 2013

(People are seen looting in Bangui, the capital of Central African Republic, December 10, 2013. REUTERS/Emmanuel Braun)

Religious leaders sought reconciliation between Muslims and Christians in Central African Republic on Wednesday during a lull in violence that has killed hundreds of people and drawn in French troops seeking to stop the bloodshed.

Fighters, both Muslim and Christian, have gone door to door murdering civilians over the past week. Mobs have carried out lynchings, set fire to cars and buildings and looted shops.

In the capital Bangui, religious leaders met to distribute food to the more than 10,000 displaced people huddled at a gathering at a community centre for protection.

“We are here because we are brothers first and foremost,” Imam Oumar Kobine Layama, president of the Islamic Central African community, told the crowd of Christians. “Today we are listening to the young to see what they propose because our house is burning down and we need to try to put out the fire,” he said.

In an indication of the distrust between communities, many refused to take the offering of food in Layama’s presence. “Since we’ve been here, Muslims have never given us anything,” said Missili Ndiaye, a displaced Christian living in the centre since the latest wave of violence. “We don’t know what they’ve put inside it – it might be poisoned.”

France has suggested it acted in Central African Republic because of fears of Muslim-Christian “genocide”, evoking memories of Rwanda, where 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutus were killed by Hutu extremists in 1994 as the world stood by. Central African Republic President Michel Djotodia, as well as regional analysts, have said the fears were exaggerated.

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