Bossangoa, Central African Republic, May 13, 2014 / 15:18 pm
A Central African bishop who was abducted on Holy Wednesday by Seleka rebels, and on his way to be executed, has called the incident "a great misfortune."
Bishop Nestor-Désiré Nongo-Aziagbia of Bossangoa was in a car with three priests of his diocese on their way to Immaculate Conception parish in Batangafo on April 16.
"Around 5 p.m. we were intercepted by Seleka rebels under the command of a colonel who was in charge in Bossangoa when the rebels occupied the city," Bishop Nongo-Aziagbia told Fides later that month.
Violence broke out in Central African Republic in December 2012. Seleka rebels, loosely organized groups that drew primarily Muslim fighters from other countries, ousted the president and installed their own leader, Michel Djotodia, in a March 2013 coup.
The Seleka were officially disbanded, but its members continued to commit such crimes as pillaging, looting, rape, and murder.
In September 2013, after 10 months of terrorism at the hands of the Seleka, "anti-balaka" self-defense groups began to form. The anti-balaka picked up momentum in November, and the conflict in the nation took on a sectarian character, as some anti-balaka, many of whom are Christian, began attacking Muslims out of revenge for the Seleka's acts.
After international pressure and resistance from the anti-balaka, Djotodia stepped down as president in January 2014. Soon after, a national council elected an interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza, a Christian who has appealed for an end to bloodshed from both sides yet has proven unable to quell the bloodshed.
The nation is now in the midst of continuing conflict among political, tribal, and religious groups – as Bishop Nongo-Aziagbia's kidnapping attests.
"I was taken to this colonel who accused me of ruining his plan to regain Bossangoa, of having put defamatory statements against him on the Internet," the bishop recounted. The two "knew each other "quite well," he told America's Kevin Clarke, and he had "criticized or condemned the various abuses (the colonel) committed on the population."
Bishop Nongo-Aziagbia and his three priests were driven toward the Chadian border. At another roadblock, near Kabo, another Seleka commander "did not agree with the order of execution," the bishop told Fides, and he and his priests were released.
His pectoral cross, mitre, bishop's ring, and car were seized, but he was able to celebrate Holy Thursday in Batangafo. He was then returned by African Union peacekeepers to Bossangoa on Good Friday via helicopter.
That same Friday, one of his priests, Fr. Christ Forman Wilibona, pastor of Paoua, was killed as he returned to his parish from Chrism Mass.
Bossangoa has seen significant violence since September, when the Seleka began murdering its inhabitants and setting fire to their homes.
Bishop Nongo-Aziagbia remained three months in a siege of his cathedral compound, sheltering more than 40,000 persons there.
In a Dec. 16, 2013 letter, he said his country had become "a shadow of its former self," calling it "a failed state." He described how the churches, convents, schools and health care facilities of his diocese had been pillaged, so that rather can continuing its health care, educational, and employment programs it was "managing an emergency situation."
In that letter he also lamented the then-recent formation of anti-balaka, saying that both they and the Seleka had a "criminal logic" and that Christian and Muslim civilians were being caught in their crossfire.
When he spoke to America magazine after his abduction, Bishop Nongo-Aziagbia emphasized that the Church will continue to protest abuses by either side, saying, "the challenge is big, but we will not succumb to evil."
On April 28, Seleka attacked a Doctors Without Borders clinic in Nanga, 70 miles north of Bossangoa. They killed 22 people, including three Doctors Without Borders aid workers.
In the 18 months of violence in Central African Republic thousands have died, and more than 1.1 million – a quarter of the population – are estimated to have been displaced from their homes. More than 2.2 million are facing food insecurity.
The BBC reports that 70 percent of Central African children are no longer attending school, and some have been recruited as soldiers.
The African Union has deployed 5,000 peacekeepers to the nation, and France has sent 2,000. The U.N. intends to send some 12,000 before the end of the year.