A Carmelite missionary in the Central African Republic has said tensions are running high in the country, but he played down fears that the African nation is on the verge of genocide.
Fr. Aurelio Gazzera, a Carmelite who works in Bozoum in the Central African Republic, said the term genocide “is probably exaggerated, but it is true that tension is so high that no one knows how the situation will evolve.”
He was responding to comments made on Thursday by France’s foreign affairs minister, Laurent Fabius, who said the Central African Republic “is on the brink of a genocide” and facing “total disorder.”
“Tension is undoubtedly very high, especially in the capital Bangui, where for almost three weeks shootings, murders, clashes of various kinds have occurred every day, in a different neighbourhood,” Fr. Gazzera told Fides News Agency.
The former French colony has descended into chaos since a coalition of rebels known as Seleka ousted President Francois Bozize in March. Although poor, the country is rich in natural resources including gold and uranium. Since seizing power aided by the Seleka alliance, transitional President Michel Djotodia has failed to control the ex-rebel fighters despite being officially dissolved.
The disorder has led to about 400,000 internally displaced people, 64,000 refugees, and burned villages, largely in the western part of the country, according to Agence France Press.
Fr. Gazzera said he had recently returned from Bangui and the general feeling was that the threat of “external intervention” was sending the Seleka “into crisis.”
A French Navy ship is reportedly sailing to the port of Douala in Cameroon, carrying reinforcements for the French troops already deployed in Central Africa.
The United States has declared its readiness to support UN sanctions against those who were responsible for crimes against civilians in the Central African Republic. It has given $40 million to help fund an African peacekeeping force sent to the country. The UN is currently considering sending thousands of peacekeepers to the strife-torn country.
Fr. Gazzera said the situation in Bozoum is “slightly better but tension remains high because anti Balaka militia attacks (who are fighting against the Seleka) are feared.”
“In addition, the men of Seleka appear very agitated”, added the missionary. “We are increasing contacts with Muslims to try to avoid accidents among the different components of the local population”, he said.