'We'll kill them – you bury them': The conflict between Christians and Muslims that's leading to dizzying acts of brutality
A very heart moving article about a young Catholic priest....i found it in Times of India....this article will definitely encourage us to live and die for others
Cahal Milmo,The Independent | Nov 14, 2014, 04.49 PM IST
Youths are angered
by an attack on a church in central Bangui, Central African Republic erect a
barricade of burning tyres in the Bea-Rex district of Bangui in May this year
Father Bernard Kinvi was
gathering injured Muslim women and children when gunmen from a largely
Christian militia singled out the 14-year-old boy clinging to his robes to be
shot. The priest's response was unyielding: "If you have to kill him, then
you will have to kill me first."
Ever since the religious bloodletting which has riven the Central African
Republic arrived in Bossemptele, the small town in the rural north west where
Father Bernard presides over a Catholic church and modest hospital, the cleric
acted with one aim: to save anyone - regardless of creed - that he could.
When a Muslim-led rebel movement, known as the Seleka, reached the town two
years ago, the 32-year-old priest treated not only those who survived their
murderous raids in the surrounding countryside but also injured fighters
Then, when the Christian backlash known as the "antibalaka" reached
Bossemptele this January with the aim of removing all Muslims - whether by
intimidation or murder, Father Bernard set himself to helping those who evaded
their AK-47s and machetes by offering shelter in the church compound.
For more than a month, the priest ran the gauntlet of antibalaka fighters, many
of them drunk or drugged and all emboldened by the belief that magic charms
made them invulnerable to bullets, collecting casualties and corpses. Dressed
in a cassock emblazoned with the red cross of his order, he negotiated daily
with the militiamen to spare as many lives as possible, including his own.
As he put it: "I had moments of great fear. But I had taken a vow and that
was to help the sick even if my own life was at risk. That vow was not meant
lightly and when the moment arrived I had to keep it. I had no choice other
than to stay and help."
It is thanks to him and his fellow members of the Camillien order, named after
St Camille who attended the ill, that some 1,000 Muslims from Bossemptele and
its environs were treated, safeguarded and eventually escorted to the relative
safety of neighbouring Cameroon.
His heroism has come to light after he was found by officials from the humanitarian
group Human Rights Watch (HRW) investigating the conflict. The priest this week
travelled to London to receive an award from the organisation for
"unwavering courage and dedication" to protecting civilians in an
A smiling, slight 32-year-old, Father Bernard recounted to The Independent how
the peaceable community where he arrived from his native Togo as a newly
ordained priest in 2010 slowly but irredeemably slid into violence and ethnic
division as conflict spread across CAR.
Awash with natural resources from diamonds to uranium, the former French colony
is nonetheless one of the world's poorest countries. The chaos into which it
sank when the Seleka seized power in the majority Christian state in March 2013
- and then subsequently lost it to the antibalaka - has cost at least 3,000
lives and left 2.5 million, more than half the population, in need of emergency
assistance to survive.
Despite a precarious truce and the presence of United Nations peacekeepers,
sporadic outbreaks of violence occur regularly. Seleka gunmen in the capital
Bangui blocked roads and exchanged gunfire with UN troops today in protest at
plans to move them from the city.
But such skirmishing is minor compared to the bestial violence which radiated
out from Bangui to places such as Bossemptele this January as the antibalaka,
in effect a popular uprising aided by Christian elements of the CAR security
forces, threatened genocide against the Muslim minority.
In a measure of the visceral and untamed nature of the fighting, pictures of
the mobs hunting down Muslim civilians at one point showed a man taking bites
from a cooked human leg.
In Bossemptele, where the Seleka had carried out "exactions" - or
reprisal attacks - killing hundreds in surrounding villages as well as meting
out arbitrary fines and punishments in the town before fleeing, the main
antibalaka attack took place on 18 January.
After five hours of shooting, Father Bernard emerged with a handcart to collect
the survivors, many of them Muslim women and handicapped children.
He said: "I had with me a 14-year-old boy, who was holding my robes. The
antibalaka saw him and said to me 'we must kill him, otherwise he will grow up
and one day fight us'.
"I said no, it is unthinkable, he is a human being. I told them that in
order to kill him they would first have to kill me. In the end, they allowed
the child to come with me."
The encounter was one of many where the priest, who spoke of a town where
previously Christians, Muslims and traditional animist faiths had freely
intermarried, used his fragile status as an impartial figure to seek to
mitigate the bloodshed. At points he shuttled between both sides by motorbike
or 4x4, on one occasion seeking to rescue a Muslim in what he feared was an
antibalaka trap, on another driving deep into the bush to treat antibalaka
At other times, all he could do was provide some dignity to the dead.
He spoke of how he would receive regular phone calls from the Christian and
animist militiamen informing him that another Muslim had been murdered and
asking him to collect the body. Father Bernard said: "They would tell me,
'it's our job to kill and your job to bury them'. At one point we put 28 bodies
in a burial pit. The corpses would be left for two weeks to rot in the
In a conflict where magic potions were considered as potent as a Kalashnikov,
the priest said a critical weapon in his armoury had been his clothing. Even
within the anarchic ranks of the antibalaka, its members sporting machetes and
"gris-gris" voodoo amulets, Father Bernard said the symbols of the
church carried enough authority to give pause for thought.
He said: "They were scared of my clothing. I think it impressed them - the
long robe with a large red cross. When I understood this, I made sure I always
In scenes reminiscent of the Hotel des Mille Collines that was used to protect
Tutsis during the Rwandan genocide, Father Bernard and his colleagues
eventually helped to arrange the evacuation of town's remaining Muslims by
lorry to Cameroon.
Now the only Muslims left in Bossemptele are the 12 handicapped orphans who are
looked after by the priests and the town's remaining imam, a former tailor who
mends their school uniforms. It is a story repeated across the CAR - of the
country's near 700,000 Muslims, it is estimated less than 100,000 remain, while
the faiths effectively live partitioned from one another.
Father Bernard, who will return to Bossemptele in January, freely admits that
he regularly broke down in tears in the privacy of his room during the darkest
days of a conflict which he is anxious to underline is by no means over.
In recent weeks, the remaining antibalaka forces in the town took a man who was
suspected of sorcery and buried him alive.
But the priest is resolute he will remain. He said: "At one point during
the fighting I phoned my elder brother and told him things were bad. But I said
if I died then he should tell my mother that I had died happy."