ATTACKS by extremists on Christian villages in the Central African Republic have left at least 15 dead and approximately 1,000 people homeless.
The raids were carried out by Islamist militia group, Séléka, which seized control of the country following a coup in March 2013.
At least 14 villages in Bouar Diocese were completely abandoned after residents fled, Italian Carmelite missionary, Fr. Aurelio Gazzera, told Aid to the Church in Need.
More than 970 refugees arrived at Fr. Gazzera’s mission in Bozoum last weekend (3rd – 4th August).
The priest visited the mainly Christian villages where the attacks took place, on the road between Bozoum and Bossangoa, on Wednesday (7th August).
He told ACN: “It was terrible. Many villages are like ghost towns because they are completely empty.
“Witnesses told me that the rebels had thrown the bodies of those killed in the river.” The dead included a five-month-old baby.
Witnesses gave the number of dead as at least 15 – but according to Fr Gazzera it has to be assumed that “several dozen” have been killed.
The priest said that predominantly Muslim villages “are not affected by such attacks, or only slightly”.
In a sermon at his Cathedral of Notre Dame in Bangui, Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga spoke out against the ongoing attacks by Séléka.
Preaching on Sunday 21st July, he said: “I can’t remain silent while the sons of this country are the victims of the worst kind of barbarism.
“I can’t remain silent while Central Africans are being tortured and killed, squashed like flies.
“I can’t remain silent while our mothers and sisters are being raped.
“I can’t remain silent while the dignity of the Central African is being trampled underfoot, while innocent people are being robbed, while the just and well-earned fruit of our country is being destroyed and looted as though we were in a house of cards.
“I can’t remain silent when impunity reigns and a dictatorship of arms is being set up.”
Séléka, which means “alliance” in the local Sango tongue, was formed by the merger of six Islamist rebel groups from Sudan, Chad, Darfur and the Central African Republic.
The rebels stormed the presidential palace in the capital, Bangui, on 24th March 2013, forcing President François Bozizé to flee to Cameroon.
A number of members of the political opposition entered into a governing agreement with Séléka and the militia leader Michel Djotodia was proclaimed the new president.
On Monday 12th August prayers for peace will be held by members of the Catholic, Muslim and Protestant communities in Bouar.
Directly under the Holy Father, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity - helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
Founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity,” the organization is now at work in over 145 countries throughout the world.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 43 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide.