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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

happy new year

31 December 2013

Finally this long year is at the end...although nobody knows how the new one will be! Since the coup d'etat last March it has been a repeating course of violence, plunders, tortures and killings. And the RCA, already among the last countries of this world, keeps on sinking. This last month has been incredibly harsh. In Bangui they seak of mote than 1000 dead people only this month, rising tension, Muslims and Christian clashing...not for religious reasons, but for political and cultural ones. Here in Bozoum since the 6th of December we live a very bizarre situation, for it's beautiful and hard at the same time. The Antibalaks attacks (most of them are simple peasants, tired and aggravated by the Seleka's violences) of the 6th, 23rd and 25th December caused about 50 dead and a massive getaway to the Mission or at the Mosques (now we have 3200 people, but we also reached 6000)
Hard situation to handle as one has to manage food, water, safety for everyone.
But also beautiful: 14 babies have been delivered here. And everyday i spend lots of time here around these people, just to smile and give my support. Beautiful also for the mediation we tried, visisting with rebels all around, travelling on impossible roads, trying our hardest to bring rationality and humanity in this horrid folly that war is. At least a dozen meeting with the Antibalakas, ten with the Selekas and all of this joined an ongoing with the Muslims.
unfortunatley so far we have seen no results, perhaps we are only delaying a disaster. If the Antibalakas attack (and there's about 1000 of them) they won't tell Selekas or Muslims apart, since some took advantage or collaborated with the Selekas here in Bozoum,altough the majority is innocent. And this will be a real massacre. We did try our best. We went up and meet with people armed to the teeth....we asked for military presence (both African Misca and French Sangaris) but none of them seems to appreciate the catastrophe upon us. I fear they'll come only too late to count bodies, together with few journalists who will say the same old things. AFTER.
But there's still time! So happy new year folks! Time is always a place where are strength and presence of God. We hope to treasure what has passed and build a better 2014! May God bless all of us!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Weird Christmas

After the French left....we are in a difficult situation...

Saturday 21st December 2013
This morning the French militaries left...nobody replaced them! And already this morning 2 Selekas threatened people with weapons, out of their home base and at 9 am I had to go see for a young guy who was arrested by them and brought at the colonel's place (he was actually ordered to leave there and join the others at the home base) the disarmament just began....I have no idea what will happen now. I fear violence and abuses will start again and the antibalakas will strike back. In the afternoon people started to come over to find shelter here. I tried to reassure them, but they are scared because a large number of Muslims are rearming. I took a stroll around and check the situation, everything looked quite ok, despite what they told me. I also went to a meeting of Antibalakas, very close to our village. I invited them to keep calm and move further away from here. The discussion went ok until somebody told us the Selekas left their base and they were going around armed. They immediately  flared up. I fear they won't keep calm for long and attack the village soon. People are scared, there's already 200 here at the Mission. The leaving of the French is a big problem, beginning the disarmament and not seeing it through is a very dangerous business. It was wiser not to even begin with such delicate operation. Will more soldiers arrive soon? How long will they stay? This is the second time the militaries are leaving us in deep troubles.

Sunday, 22nd December 2013
Relatively calm day today, perhaps because I'm sick with Malaria the afternoon,  despite the fever, I went to the prefect to a meeting with the Colonel. He came with another "colonel" wearing prada sandals. This time they had no machine gun, just one pistol. They are also worried, rumor of antibalakas attacking is spreading. The majority of Muslims and Peuls are armed....anything can happen. We decided to have another meeting with the neighborhoods representatives on the following day, but I fear it's going to be too late. What will happen tonight? And tomorrow?

Monday 23rd December 2013
Relatively quiet night, but people keep arriving here to find shelter. In the morning I went into town to see the Imam, and to offer him shelter for his people, at least for the women and children. At 10 Antibalakas and Selekas started to fight. Many came running, too many came too close. At 1 two Selekas came here, I told them to leave, there's only civilians here, they got mad, threatened me, then eventually left. 4 pm, we heard no shootings anymore and people began to 
Settle their few things back again in the hall, the classrooms and the patios of the Mission.what will happen tonight? And tomorrow?

Tuesday 24th December 2013
Morning went ok, people do still arrive, there's more than 2700 of them. At 1pm, an elicopter flew over us, after a wee bit, two more arrived. The French soldiers are here, gathering information, it's a quick meeting, in twenty minutes they are gone. Due to the circumstance we celebrated midnight mass at 4 pm, so many people came, and sang and danced. A joyful moment in such difficult times!
An ONU Mission passed by to see the situation, the next day they left without doing anything, because of the no safety area.

Wednesday 25th December 2013 - Christmas
Such a weird Christmas this year. 5.30am shooting woke us up, and lasted three hours! I helped the ONU mission to leave, and at 8.30 we decided to celebrate Mass, even though few people preferred to wait for the shooting to end. And then a small miracle, as we began to pray, the shooting stopped for the entire day! We gathered at 12.30 monks and nuns. There isn't much on the table for us to eat, but we managed to make few raviolis. To hell with the rebels! I was moved by receiving so many text messages and letters of wishes from so many Muslim friends: there is a small gap for love and hope!
I the afternoon the children were singing, traditional songs and many others. One in particular strikes me, it's a beautiful chorus "STOP SHOOTING! STOP KILLING!"
Here is some video of our Chrsitmas here in Bozoum:

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

working for peace

before 6am I set off towards Bocaranga, went to Tatale village (50km) to pick up injured people after the anti-balaka attack of Saturday last. Just 15km far from Bozoum we run upon the anti-balakas, waiting for us. I greeted them, they are mostly village people, students, adults. They're about 80. So we began talking. They expressed their suffering and aggravation after the Selekas attacks and violences, since March. I replied fighting to defend your families and your villages is ok, but you are mistaking all Muslims by Selekas. Selekas are criminals. There are Muslims and Mbororos who did take advantage of this situation, however it is pitot question to attack civilians, as the did in Bozoum. They only provoked the Selekas and the Muslims reaction with in results of killing 20 innocent civilians and now everyone goes around armed. They did understand my meaning, I asked if they were in for a meeting with the Seleka's chief....they agreed. So I went on to my destinations  hectic ya. In every village there are anti-balakas. In Tatale, as we pick up the wounded, I came across the self-defense committee, who tried to react against anti-balakas. The atmosphere was ok, although now we heard the Selekas "colonel" sold Kalashnikov to the Mbororos. That complicates everything....
We came home with 20 injured men.
I will try to convince the colonel to come tomorrow, with no weapons. Hopefully this will bring us some peace.
Saturday 14th: 
today is the big day there's the meeting with anti-balakas (they were simple farmers who formed vigilantes groups to defend their families and fields against the Selekas)
At 8 am I went in to town with the prefect, the studies rector and my colleagues of Justice and Peace. The Seleka's "colonel" called in then put trough his security man. After I explained the situation, and take responsibility for his safety, they agreed on him coming unarmed. In the meanwhile I tried to convince some Muslims leaders (two Imams, one Mbororos chief and a delegation of transporters). It was difficult, but in the end their determination and strong motivation prevailed. (They are very brave to come, after all anti-balakas are quite hostile towards them, many Muslims and Mbororos took advantage and collaborated with Selekas.
The colonel was already in the car, when one of his men, fully armed came on board. We asked him to leave. The colonel also left. (Only hours later we found out Selekas had plan a high speed car for tracing upon us. Thankfully they had an accident that forced them home, I cannot imagine what could have happened, if they showed up with weapons)......
So off we went.
We arrived in the village, there was an impressive line of armed men, more than500 !!!! Most have home made rifles, some have machetes, knives, clubs.
We began the meeting, the leaders spoke of their anguish and suffering. The cannot move, they have big issues with the Mbororos (armed, threatening them) they have been wounded, tortured, raped, killed. Many lost their relatives, killed by the Selekas ( some dead bodies were thrown in the river)...
they were assertive ans determined in their telling. They gave three days for Selekas to disarm and leave, or they will attack. Which means total disaster, carnage -as they little differentiate Selekas nor Muslims- of a religious group.
We indeed acknowledged their points against Selekas, tried to make them understand that even if few Muslim and Mbororos took advantage and collaborated with Selekas, the majority of their communities are innocent. It will be necessary to disarm everyone, especially since they bought rifles from the Seleka just recently. Thankfully the Muslim delegates are wise and kept calm even if some people shout against them. Their turn to speak: they plead forgiveness for the violence caused by some of their people, they want to help Seleka to leave this place and let peace come back on our village. So we ended our meeting with a Commonwealth goal: disarm and Selekas leaving this place, in 3 days. It won't be easy, but we'll try our best. God help if this attempt will fail! Anti-balakas are more than 1000, with two further groups, estimated 3000 armed people. If we manage to disarm Selekas, they are ready to lay down weapons too. It could become an example for the peace in this country.
3 pm meeting with the people who came at the meeting with me, we drafted the ultimatum for the colonel: either Selekas leave Bozoum or they will be confined in a designed place and they won't be permitted to go around carrying weapons. We called in the colonel, explained him the grave situation mad we red him the ultimatum and our alternatives. They were obviously not happy about it. We told them to carefully consider these options, the anti balakas are powerful and numerous, if the Seleka should resist it would be a massacre for everyone.
They said they will think about it and let us know tomorrow at 11 am

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Lots of time and work to go back to real peace.

Monday: reinforces arrive into evening! it's the FOMAC militaries. 20 soldiers, really professionals. they immediately secured our Mission's area, which now hosts more than 4500 refugees. then they went to meet with the Seleka rebels, informed them they will patrol the city, Selekas disagreed. FOMACs said it doesn't matter, they'll do it anyways. Seleka then demands to patrol together, FOMACs refused. Selekas had no choice but to agree.

Tuesday:I went to the airport in the morning to carry a woman who was badly injured by Seleka people last friday. The Red Cross brought her in Paoua, where Doctors Without Borders will take care of her. meanwhile FOMACs met with local authorities, the Imam and Selekas. Selekas demanded that refugees would leave the Mission and went home and they would be providing security service (!!!)
They insisted on meeting with the people at 2 pm. I refused to let them in. Also I wanted for the people to speak. so i agreed upon meeting with a dozen refugees representatives in a building opposite the street. 2pm we all were there. Except Selekas. We decided to wait another half hour. At 2.25 pm the "colonel" called, saying he fell asleep, and he was on his way now. We told him "No". refugees delegation, once they heard we said no were clapping hands. It's vital these people began to awake to their own dignity and demand some respect.
In town there's a little less tension and few less weapons...
After the failed meeting I set off with the Red Cross again, to retrieve a dead body. on our way home we came across few young armed guys. We stopped, i asked why were they carrying weapons. They replied that they were afraid of the anti-balakas (local militias attacking Selekas and Muslims) I told them to stay calm and not to go around armed. 
8.30 pm we got news the anti-balakas were in town....we took some safety precautions and went to bed...and finally we had a peaceful night. 

Wednesday: this morning we had a meeting at 8.30 am. the Sleka's "colonel" Yahaya, was 5 minutes early. he learnt his lesson. Accompanied by another "colonel" Ibrahim and 10/15 (battle's nickname) and his security man (wearing more "grisgris" -talismans- then weapons. there were many people and delegates began to talk. They expressed their feeling afraid, worried,and unsafe. just this past night Slekas burned two houses and stole a phone.
Women were far more brave than men: one of them spoke. Selekas killed her husband last Friday, she's got 7 small kids and nothing left. this testimony made many of us cry.
After this it was finally my turn! I have been waiting for months to get to the right moment to shout and expose the Selekas foul deeds and give them a piece (or two or three and perhaps more) of my mind. I had an audience so I jumped in.
Turned out that Selekas demand for all refugees to come back home. but there's no guarantee. I told them the problem is not the Muslims. They, the Selekas are, they are the killers. they are the ones who throw dead bodies in the river, who even took it up on me and the Red Cross because we went looking for them. Seleka arrests and tortures people, Seleka threatens (then i directly spoke to “10/15” and told him "you. you are the one that at the city council shouted against us and told me you were coming to kill me"). I went ahead: "It's the Seleka that beats up people and steals from them, Seleka who places barriers illegally with the excuse of protecting: the truth is that you to exact a tribute from everybody. Your only interest is to protect your own pockets. you forced people to flee, you made them escape here and since August demand all food and supply trucks to pay you a fee. You demand that people go back home tonight? just few hours ago you burned two and stole a can you expect anyone to believe and trust you? we have no issues with Muslims, nor Pelus. Our doors were open to anyone in need, we give food to refugees here in the Mission and in the Mosque. Our problem is with you, the Selekas.
Their answer was simply : "We'll see". I stayed back a while longer with them after the meeting, to make sure they got the point........We will see. 

After that i went to visit with the Peuls. there were 2200 of them, more are coming....they were happy to see us. they're afraid the anti-balaka will attack again (they had injured people, so they are armed now) We met with the Imam, a good friend. I took this joyous moment to make sure everyone knew we have nothing against the Muslims, that it's vital we all live together in peace. it was a good moment. I also invited the Imam over at the Mission to talk to refugees. He was happy to accept. I came back here, with hope in my mind of a tomorrow free of all this....i wonder if the Selekas will be able to honor and respect peace, stop extortions and violence. 
At 4pm I met with "colonel" Yahaya and prefect secretary. He's a calm type and I resumed my argument. People won't leave from here unless Selekas stop stealing, killing and torturing. I hope he'll listen to me.
In the next days we'll see if they want to change or not. 
I stopped by, looking for the Imam and we came home together to meet with the refugees. I introduced him and explained people our Muslim brothers' fear, that they were under attack by the anti-balakas. i stressed out the point of respecting everyone and to hopefully go back on living together peacefully. Imam also spoke. He invited people to move back home.
This is too early, of course, people are still scared.
It will all take time. Lots of time and work to go back to real peace.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Weekend as refugees

Bozoum's situation remains tense and difficult.SAturday was rather quiet, it let us arrange stuff. We needed to tend to all 35 rooms, including schools, with hygiene, food, safety. All together there was a nice atmosphere. For the kids it feels like a holiday time, for the adults, hidden by few smiles, there's great worry
on Saturday evening, the FOMAC (Nultinational Force of Central Africa) told us they would come, but they didn't. On Sunday morning we celbrated Mass and about 11 am everyone fled quickly: rumor had the Seleka rebels arrived here at the mission....Refugees are 3000 and keep on arriving, from other cities and villages. On sunday morning there had clashes on the Bocaranga road, 15th km: 2 Seleka dead. Many pelus have arrived also: they are nomads that usually breed livestocks. There's 2200 of them and we're trying to arrange food for them in their 3 sites they have. At 12.45 we heard some shooting. I hurried there but people were ok. only later we found out they shot a young guy....
3 pm i left with the Red cross to retrieve 7 dead bodies and bring them into a mass grave...along with the ones from the previous day it makes 12 people. there's on reble of the anti-balaka, everyone else were just civilians that were hiding in terror....
Crossing the town streets i can only spot Muslims and Pelus with guns, big knives, machetes....there's fear and tension: i;m really afraid this will end up a massacre. Here up at the Mission we set up few barriers and we do not allow anyone carrying weapons...
Today, Monday, we received more threats, we are fully alert.
We hope in the military action of FORMAC or France....
This morning i run into few Muslims of our secondary school. Im happy to see them, they are too. They're very sorry for this tension, i invited them over for a match: a tiny sign of hope....

Saturday, December 7, 2013

(bad) news form Bozoum

Bad day yesterday in Bangui, with shootings and more than 300 people dead.
Here in Bozoum also bad tension. In the evening there have been some shootings and immediately some people came over here at the mission to spend the night, which was calm.
This morning at 9.30 more shooting. The kids of the schools were terribly frightened, I went over to make sure all precautions are taken, finally, we got confirmation it was fals alarm we sent the kids back home. 12.45 more shootings, a lot of them, in several directions, even with heavy weapons. The anti-balaka, militias of local people who lost everything because of the Seleka rebels, are attacking the village. Immediately everyone flees and many come here at the mission.
It's 4 pm. We have a meeting to organize their staying here (hygiene, safety, water supply and place for the night) there at least 3000 people and we don't know if more will come....sadly some have been wounded and some are dead. 
We hope and we pray that the situation will calm down and peace will come back again....