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Gold and diamonds in CAR fuelled 2 years of terror



Marists continue work in a destroyed Central African Republic

26/05/2015: Central African Republic

Marist brothers are struglling to help the citizens and children of Central African Republic (CAR) return to normality after two years of terror fuelled by international interests for the country’s gold and diamonds.

“Thousands of Muslims at the borders of neighboring countries cannot return to the country because of the Anti-balaka militia, and those who have sought refuge in dioceses and churches cannot return to their towns and homes,” said Brother Elías Pérez, one of the five brothers in the country.   

“Our community has offered financial assistance or food to the Bishop on several occasions who has kept hundreds of Muslims on his property for over a year now,” he stated in an interview with the communications office of the Marist General House in Rome. 

Br Elías, originally from Mexico, is director of the Lycée Saint Marcellin Champagnat - a Marist middle and high school in Berberati located 100 km from the border with Cameroon. 

Three other brothers, two from CAR and one from Congo, teach mathematics, French, civic and moral education, and catechesis. The fifth brother, from France, is the director of the kindergarten and primary school.

Br Elías stressed that many people fear that Muslims will take revenge if they return to their homes.

While the world is witnessing the outrageous Christian persecution in the Middle East, it is the Muslims who are being persecuted in CAR by a group created for self-defense and revenge against the Islamic group Seleka who took over the country in 2013. 

“The journalists made a big mistake calling the Anti-balaka “Christian militias” as they don’t have anything to do with the churches and they don’t obey anyone,” affirmed Br Elías. “They have killed hundreds of Muslims and forced thousands into exile in neighboring countries.”

“In some places, life is starting to be organized again, but the huge poverty that resulted after more than two years of violence makes it very difficult and there is fear of what might happen,” said Br Elías.

The Central African Republic has remained unstable since its independence from France in 1960 and is one of the least developed countries in the world.

After several coups followed by a regime under the self-declared emperor, Jean-Bedel Bokassa, the next big hit was when a new Muslim rebel group formed by militias from Chad, Nigeria, Sudan and, according to CNN, possibly from Al Qaeda, “the Seleka,” captured the capital city Bangui on March 24, 2013 – Palm Sunday – and ousted the president. 

CAR is one of the world’s poorest countries, but rich in gold and diamonds. Its illegal trade is being used to fund the different militia groups.

 class=imgshadownThe Seleka called the country’s divition, the north for Muslims and the south for Christians. But Br Elías noted “this was imposible for the Central Africans to accept because this request came from people from other countries.”

The Multinational Force of Central Africa, the French “Operation Sangaris,” and the  African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA) which later became the United Nations Mission in Central Africa (MINUSCA) forced the Selekas to the north.

According to Br Elías, the Seleka are now controlling a large area of the north centre of the country where national authorities have not been able to settle.

But the violence did not end there with the birth of a new self defense group in 2014, the Anti-balaka, a so-called “Christian” group of militias who commit the same atrocities as the Seleka.

 “As long as the Muslims do not return to the country, to their homes, as long as the Selekas remain in certain regions and as long as the Anti-balaka remain in large regions, it will be imposible to return to normal life,” he remarked.

But with all the terror, poverty and malnutrition, the brothers continue to struggle to help their students, who have been greatly affected.

“Many of our students come without having had breakfast and their first meal will be when they return home after three in the afternoon,” said Br Elías.

“The school spends a lot in helping sick children that each day turn up to the school’s management each day with malaria, typhoid fever, tooth decay, vomiting or diarrea,” he added.

He underscored that there is “no shortage of young people who come to see me at recess saying they are hungry, and I help those who I know are really poor.”

He revealed that in moments of great violence in different parts of the country, “the Sangaris, Misca or Minusca were present and direct witnesses of the killing of thousands by the Seleka or Anti-balaka and nobody intervened.”

“Some say they make deals with some group and give them weapons or permit them to do what they do,” he stated. “Others accuse them of engaging in gold and diamond trade, and to have fun as they are highly paid.”

“Since the UN peacekeeping forces come from different countries, are not appreciated in the same way - some are classified as serious and some as corrupt, while others as cowards who do not want to compromiso,” he added.

He underscored that “the reality is that there are thousands of UN peacekeepers and they haven’t been able to establish peace facing the Seleka and Anti-balaka who are less armed and less prepared.” 

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