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NAIROBI, Kenya (RNS) — Following the recent killings of priests in the Central African Republic, Catholic officials worry that clergy are being targeted by armed groups for their peacemaking efforts.
On June 29, Firmin Gbagoua, vicar general of the Bambari Diocese, which covers much of the Central African Republic, was killed by a suspected Muslim rebel group. Gbagoua, who served as the regional director of Caritas, an international Catholic relief group, was the sixth Catholic priest to be killed in the conflict that has pitted pro-Christian militias, known as anti-Balaka, against Muslim rebels, known as ex-Seleka.
Gbagoua - Death - Month - Abbot - Albert
Gbagoua’s death comes a month after Abbot Albert Tougoumale-Baba was shot dead in an attack in a cathedral in the capital of Bangui in May. The Rev. Joseph Désiré Angbabata was killed in a similar attack in the Bambari Diocese in March.
“The attacks can be seen as an attempt to silence the church for its strong opposition to the violence and its work on peace,” Archbishop Nestor Désiré Nongo-Aziagbia, vice president of the CAR’s Catholic bishops’ conference, told Religion News Service.
Country - Conflict - Seleka - Coalition - Muslim
The majority-Christian country descended into conflict in 2013, when Seleka, a coalition of Muslim rebel groups, overthrew President Francois Bozize and installed their leader, Michel Djotodia, who declared himself president. The rebel coalition rampaged across the country, burning villages and attacking and looting churches. As president until 2014, Djotodia attempted to dissolve Seleka, but splinter groups continue fighting as ex-Seleka.
Djotodia’s rise to power ignited counterattacks by anti-Balaka, a mainly Christian and animist group, also called “anti-machete,” so named because Seleka fighters often use machetes in attacks. By the time Djotodia resigned in 2014, anti-Balaka had emptied thousands of Muslims from the southern part of the country. Thousands more fled to neighboring Chad and Cameroon, while others camped in churches under the care of priests and pastors.
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