Rape, sexual assaults, looting and killings have taken place as rebel troops left the Central African Republic and withdrew to Chad – including the attempted rape of religious sisters.
Fr. Aurelio Gazzera, director of Caritas in Bouar Diocese, told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need that attacks had increased as members of the now disbanded Seleka militia group left the country.
Seleka, which seized power in the Central African Republic in March 2013 and was dissolved last September, was the result of a merger of militia units including ones from Chad and Sudan.
The Carmelite missionary priest said that during an attack on a mission station near the border with Chad, two religious sisters, originally from Europe, and a volunteer were sexually assaulted by members of Seleka.
Fr Gazzera said: “One of the rebels who invaded the mission station held his gun to the head of one of the Sisters and tried to force her to undress.
“The other Sister and the volunteer were also sexually molested.”
The missionary Sister, who asked that their names and the convent’s location be withheld, reported that the rebels debated whether they should tie the women up. But the soldiers left them, instead looting the mission station.
Fr Gazzera said: “They wanted to force one of the Sisters to mount their motorbike. The Sister fear[ed] that she would be kidnapped.”
As the rebels were arriving, one of the Sisters removed the consecrated Hosts from the tabernacle and consumed them thereby preventing the rebels from desecrating them.
The priest told ACN that there had been no protection from peace-keeping troops as ex-Seleka members retreated.
Fr Gazzera said: “Especially in the border zone, military protection is urgently needed to prevent assaults and massacres.”
The Italian priest added that the presence of new peace-keeping forces sent to the Central African Republic is “very much appreciated,” but stressed their operations must not be focused on the capital city, Bangui.
Fr Gazzera also stated that on Tuesday, 4th February, 22 people, including 14 women, were killed in their homes and several houses were burned down in the village of Nzakoun, also near the border with Chad. The village’s clinic was looted and destroyed by a grenade.
The priest also recently received reports that on 23rd January 12 people, including four women and four children, were killed and five others badly wounded by Seleka rebels passing through the village of Assana, also situated in the border zone.
The clinic was also destroyed there and 158 houses were burned down.
He added: “Even the refrigerator with the vaccines was destroyed. The people fled into the bush and have absolutely no medical care.”
The Carmelite missionary also said it was a “great injustice” that Muslims, the great majority of whom have nothing to do with Seleka, have suffered from “revenge attacks” by Anti-Balaka militias and in several cases have been forced to flee the country.
He said: “From Bozoum, all 2,500 Muslims have fled with a convoy towards Chad. They include many friends with whom we had a good relationship. It is an injustice that now these people have also lost everything.
“In our parish church we celebrated a Mass in penance, because many of the non-Muslim inhabitants of Bozoum rejoiced when the Muslims were driven out. That is a sin.
“For a peaceful future, the people must realise that one injustice cannot wipe out another, and that we should not rejoice over the sufferings of others.”
Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS);www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN)