Church buildings have been attacked and the homes of Christians looted in the aftermath of a bloody coup by a band of Muslim rebels in the Central African Republic (CAR). The Seleka rebels seized control of the country on 24 March, following a three-month uprising.
Their leader, Michel Djotodia, has assumed the presidency from the ousted François Bozizé, becoming the nation’s first Muslim president. Days of chaos and looting followed the takeover, with property belonging to Christians being targeted by the rebels, while that belonging to Muslims was spared.
A senior church leader said that the rebels destroyed a number of church buildings when they entered the south-eastern town of Bangassou. The house of a seminary rector was robbed and destroyed, and a mechanic severely beaten when he would not reveal where church-owned vehicles were kept.
A Baptist church in Bambari was also destroyed. A Christian in the capital Bangui said, ‘We are no longer at home. They pillage our goods which are then sold by the Muslims who export them’.
The rebellion spread from the north, where CAR’s Muslim minority is concentrated, and has had a militant Islamic character. The Seleka rebels are said to follow Wahhabism, an extreme and puritanical version of Islam that is practised in Saudi Arabia.
When Djotodia arrived at the Bangui mosque for Friday prayers following the takeover, Muslims chanted ‘Allahu Akbar’ (‘god is great’), the oft-used cry of militant Islamists. One woman said, ‘They say, “It’s our turn now. We will make you pay”.’
Djotodia has insisted that CAR is a secular state and that he ‘must serve my country, all Central Africans’, but admitted that ‘some people with bad intentions want to lead the country into inter-religious conflict’.
Professing Christians, who comprise around 75 per cent of the population, and Muslims, who account for around 15, have previously lived peaceably together.
CAR has had a succession of unstable, military governments since it gained independence in 1960. Ousted president Bozizé himself came to power in a coup ten years ago.
It is currently in a lawless state. On 25 March, Djotodia suspended the constitution, announced the dissolution of the National Assembly and said that he intends to rule by decree. The violent takeover has been condemned by the African Union, the UN Security Council and the US.