Central African Republic crisis becomes a waiting game

Central African Republic crisis

Refugees in Bangui
(Photo credit: Staff Sgt Ryan Crane)

Central African Republic (MNN) — The Central African Republic crisis has become a “waiting game” as French forces try to prevent even more conflict from breaking loose in Bambari.

“They’re keeping the Muslims and the anti-balaka (Christian militants) separated,” explains Jim Hocking of Water for Good, an in-country partner of Living Water International and Reach Beyond.

“They’ve been crossing the bridge and getting into each other’s neighborhoods, killing people [and] hurting some people, and then going back home and hiding out in their village.”

Last Monday, Muslim Seleka forces and armed civilians attacked St. Joseph’s Catholic Cathedral in Bambari. It was supposedly a “retaliatory” attack. Several days prior, anti-balaka militants initiated violence in a Muslim neighborhood, killing a civilian.

The church was sheltering thousands of people displaced by Muslim-Christian violence when fighters reportedly broke in and started shooting at random. Assailants also razed buildings and burnt cars belonging to the church’s bishop.

The attack left 26 dead and dozens more wounded. Three days of national mourning for the victims began on Thursday.

Keeping the Peace
Following the attack on St. Joseph’s Catholic Cathedral, French peacekeeping troops sprang into action. There is a long bridge that people have to cross to enter Bambari, Hocking explains. The French are blocking access to the bridge to prevent communities from attacking each other.

“It will probably have to continue until we have large enough forces in the CAR: mainly, the UN forces that are coming in, probably 12,000 troops, in September,” he says.

“The multinational forces are a help, but the European Union and the UN troops that are coming into the country are really going to make the difference.”

Interim CAR president Catherine Samba-Panza

Interim CAR president Catherine Samba-Panza

In a separate development last week, human rights watchdog Amnesty International released this report identifying government and militia leaders involved in the Central African Republic crisis. It called on Catherine Samba-Panza, the country’s interim President, to take action.

“Her hands are tied,” notes Hocking. “She has no security forces…so it’s very difficult for her to be able to implement anything.”

For now, everyone waits for September.

Ministry continues
Gospel workers aren’t waiting for UN and EU troops to arrive, though. Water and radio ministries are continuing.

Hocking spoke with ministry leaders last week following the attack on St. Joseph’s Cathedral, ensuring safety and monitoring progress. Leaders told Hocking that one of Water for Good’s teams was hard at work drilling wells in refugee camps surrounding Bangui. Other teams were out repairing wells and performing maintenance calls.

Well maintenance teams have made over 650 service visits to water pumps so far in 2014. (Image, caption courtesy Water For Good)

Well maintenance teams have made over 650 service visits to water pumps so far in 2014.
(Image, caption courtesy Water For Good)

“We are trying to get more security help in that area; [we’re] trying to get (bulletproof) vests, [satellite] phones [to] be able to get in touch with our teams when they’re out in the bush,” explains Hocking.

Extra security measures will certainly add to Water for Good’s expenses, but “we’re able to continue our work, and we thank the Lord for that.”

Support the water ministry here, or help the radio team send Gospel messages of reconciliation here.

“They all need help,” shares Hocking. “They all need your prayers, because this is not going to be easy. Taking time every day to be praying is going to be very important.

“Your prayers are going to strengthen and encourage the nationals that are working toward peace.”

See additional ways the Central African Republic crisis is affecting ministry here.