CAR Bishop Says Part of His Jurisdiction “has fallen into the hands of rebels”

Bishop Juan José Aguirre Muñoz of CAR's Diocese of Bangassou.
Credit: Aid to the Church in Need (ACN)

A Bishop in the Central African Republic (CAR) has said that a section of his Diocese is in the hands of rebels.

In a Monday, January 4 report, Bishop Juan José Aguirre Muñoz confirms the capture of the diamond-rich town of Bangassou where his Diocese is headquartered.

"Yes, Bangassou has fallen into the hands of the rebels, many of whom are mercenaries and people from Niger,” Bishop Aguirre Muñoz has been quoted as saying.

Making reference to the events of Sunday, January 3 when the town was captured, the Bishop adds, “The morning was hectic. Heavy artillery from 5 in the morning with about thirty dead and wounded.”

Amid the violence instigated by the armed rebels in the region, which lies in the Southern part of the country, Bishop Aguirre Muñoz has facilitated refuge for some of the “innocent” children caught up in the chaos.

“You look them in the eye and they know nothing about rebels, mercenaries, struggles for power ... They only hear the gunshots and explosions. And they are very frightened", the 66-year-old Bishop, a member of the Comboni Missionaries of the Heart of Jesus, says referencing the children. 

The Spanish-born Bishop adds in the January 4 report, “There are many children injured by stray bullets, children who are trying to flee to Congo to escape the violence.” 

The city of Bangassou fell into the hands of the rebels on Sunday, January 3, a day after another assault on the city of Damara, the hometown of the incumbent President, Faustin-Archange Touadera. 

Presidential elections in CAR were held on December 27 amid insecurity and political tensions.

Provisional results announced by CAR’s electoral commission Monday, January 4 show that President Touadera won having secured over 53 percent of the votes.

“Faustin-Archange Touadera, having received the absolute majority of the vote in the first round with 53.9%, is declared winner,” the President of CAR electoral commission, Matthias Morouba has been quoted as telling journalists in the capital, Bangui.

Ahead of the polls, a coalition of armed rebel groups under the auspices of Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) launched an offensive. The December 19 move threatened to disrupt the presidential elections with the intention to “march to Bangui.” 

The threats are said to be in response to a rejection by the country’s constitutional court of the candidacy of the rebels' ally, ex-president François Bozizé who wanted to challenge President Touadera.

However, the rebels who are said to control two-thirds of the landlocked country have so far been successfully barred from advancing to CAR capital by the military, UN peacekeepers and reinforcements from Russia and Rwanda. 

Ahead of the polls, Bishops in the country under their umbrella body, the Central African Episcopal Conference (CECA) cautioned against political alliances comprising armed groups.

In their collective statement, the Bishops urged the government to prioritize “dialogue and national consensus in strict compliance with the constitutional order.”

“We, the Bishops of the Central African Republic, condemn any politico-military alliances aimed at destabilizing the democratic system, paralyzing socio-political and economic life and damaging the peace and well-being of the Central African people,” CECA members said in their December 19 statement shared with ACI Africa.

In the January 4 report, Bishop Aguirre Muñoz highlights "the aggressiveness of these mercenaries, who are looking for natural resources and wealth.”

CAR government soldiers fled Bangassou after resisting the rebel offensive for “several hours,” the Bishop says, and poses, “How can you give a tender look in the midst of so much violence?"

The January 3 siege of the town, which borders the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), came at a time when the Catholic Diocese of Bangassou “had started several reconstruction projects.”

"Now we will have to start many of these over again. There are many traumas that need to be healed,” Bishop Aguirre Muñoz laments in the January 4 report by Agenzia Fides, the information service of Propaganda Fide.

The Local Ordinary of Bangassou adds, “The suffering Christ is behind every post-traumatic shock.”

Amid the violence and insecurity, the people of God in CAR are “still there; the poor have not moved nor the Christ who dwells in them,” the Comboni Missionary Bishop says.

“The Christian community will continue to grow and we will continue to grow with it," the Bishop says and appeals for prayers for his Diocese and the people of God in CAR.


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