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Saturday, February 22, 2014

A little hope

Chrétiens et Musulmans ensemble, à Tatale
Cristiani e Musulmani insieme, a Tatale

l'école de BATA
La scuola di Bata

Bozoum begins to breathe again, but tension remains high. There's little shootings but we need to stay alert! Every morning at 8 am we have a meeting (the prefect, the MISCA chief, myself, the Red Cross,  , MSF , l'UNHCR e OCHA , justice and peace, caritas and an evangelic priest) to evaluate the current situation and which solutions are best to put in place.
The remaining of the country also is in great tension and distress: in Bangui there have been many shootings, in Bocaranga and Ngaundaye are still afraid the Baba Ladde rebels will show. In our parish in Baoro (where more than 3000 Christians and Muslims hide) people have begun to go home and a thousand Peuls have set foot to Cameroon.
Finally the Pam food has arrived and we began to hand it out to 1500 families (that's 6000 people more or less) who had their houses burnt down. Most of them have started building again and often we come across people remaking their roof or collecting hay.
On Saturday and Sunday we received a visit which made us happy three times.
First because since November last many ongs left, second because father Marco and father Claudio came over to show love and affection forum our religious family from our province in Genova, Italy. And third because father Emilio Martinez, General vicar of our order has come to 
Give his support to all the Carmelita's brothers and sisters.
Their arrival and departure has been a real adventure. They came here from Cameroon with a bus and left from Bangui under shootings attacks.......
we keep on checking the schools in our area, we have two projects that have been financed by the Czech Republic and by UNICEF.
In Bozoum 50% of the students have started school again. Not much, but it is something.
On Friday the 21st of February I went 60 km far from here, in Bokpayen and Tatale
Which are hosting 700 Peuls. This is a rather unqualified case, but not the only one! 
We met with the villagers and we encouraged them to keep this path of peace and cohabiting.
Few grains of Hope in a country where tensions between communities keep on getting worse.

Distribution du matériel scolaire à Bockpayen
Distribuzione di quaderni e matite a Bockpayen

Réunion à Tatale

Chretiens et Mususlmans, réfugiés à la Paroisse de Baoro
Cristiani e musulmani rifugiati nella Parrocchia di Baoro

Pères et Soeur de Baoro au travail pour les réfugiés
Padri (Daniel e Dieudonné) e Suore al lavoro per i rifugiati

Sunday, February 16, 2014

And the fight goes on....

Antibalaka à Bozoum

As the wind keeps on blowing (here they call it Harmattan), this country is still shaken by violence: a neighborhood against another, new rebels against old ones....We are trying our best to carry on, but nothing here is certain! We witness the civil war's folly taking over, all aorund here in Bozoum, in Bouar, Bocaranga, Ngaundaye....and dreams od peace and progress are moving away. But we mustn't despair. there are also few good news. Hyppolite,they kid form Bozoum, who is paralized waist-down is finally in Italy and had his main surgery on Wedesday and he's doing ok! so a big thanks is in order to all the medical staff, the surgeons and to Maurizio, Marta and Alessandra and all who contributed to make this dream possible!

Saturday, the 8th of February 2014
Again some shootings last night. This mornning we had a meeting with few authorities and some Antibalakas. We all said: ENOUGH! we managed to make the Selekas leave, all the Muslims are gone...what more do you want? We did chastised them quite a lot. we tried our best to make them understand it's about time they are to stop shooting, stealing, ransacking, hurting and killing. all this violence is only but preventing any progress whatsoever!
We demanded to stop shooting, no more weapons in the city, no more military uniforms....
since this morning it's ok. let's hope for the best! I also received a call from Chad. one of the Muslims from Bozoum who left with the convoy called in to let me know they arrived safe and sound and to thank me. I was happy to know they are fine. at 10.30 pm i also got the last news for today: Hyppolite is in Bologna airport!

Sunday, the 9th of February 2014
Few shootings during the day and rather quie day. I celebrated the Masses in purple, no Glorias and very little songs today. I said they were Penitential ones, to ask for forgiveness for our sins,  for not only letting the Muslims go but for especially making an happy event out of it, and for some to take advantage to hurt people and steal....

Monday, the 10th of February 2014
Meeting with those Antibalakas who occupied the Gendarmery. Eventually they moved out....only to occupy another building!

Tuesday and Wednesday, 11th and 12th of February 2014
Along with a doctor and an MSF representative we set off at 6 am towards Bocaranga, Ndim and Ngaudaye. We arrived at 4 pm after 210 km of disastrous roads. We came across many people holding homemade weapons, but we encountered no bars on the way (we found 3 on our way back home) We know there are Baba Laddé rebels in Bang, on the Cameron's borders and that Antibalakas are trying to hunt them down, unsuccesfully so far.  On that same Tuesday those rebels burned down villages between Bang and Ngaudaye, the risk for an attack is very high indeed. Especially because, despite our pleads, no army has come to protect the population. Not the French Sangaris, not Cameroonian MISCA.
We found villages almost deserted. In Ngaudaye there are few houses burned and the hospital is completely empty....there are no patients in there. No doctors, no medicines...
There are 4 Capuchins: two from CAR, one Italian, one Polish, two nuns and a laic nun. They're all still in shock, after the Selekas left their mark passing by on the 21st of January they have been threatened and robbed of everything one can imagine. Father Roland was also kidnapped for few hours. Any activity here is suspended (school, women's center, hospital)...and the future is very dark indeed.
There is no progress at all. Military forces as the MISCA are far from effective: when the Selekas was leaving the country to go back to Chad they were left unattended, anyone can plainly see the disaster they left behind, a trail of ransacks, fires, murders and robberies. On the other hand, few days afterward they did escort them, but towards Paua, and Kaga Bandoro, an area which the Selekas wanted to occupy in order to divide the country between themselves....
On our way back we stopped in Nzakoun, 14 km far from Ngaudaye. Here the Selekas killed 22 people, of which 14 women, in their own houses. they launched a small missile on the medical centre and now it's totally destroyed.

How long will we have to endure this folly?

Thursday the 13th of February 2014
Finally the MISCAs have arrived here in Bozoum. Meeting at 8 pm as usual, there's also a guy from a local force called FACA. Although they are regulated we have few doubts. he said he was here as a mission, but he had no ID nor mission papers.
We met the MISCAs and of course presented them with all our concerns on the situation in town, as the Antibalakas still carry weapons around.
I heard from Ngaudaye, MISCAs have arrived also in the morning and met the Antibalakas and other rebels from the APRD and hired them on to attack Bang, the border's village where Baba Ladde's are, fully armed. Once they got there the rebels fled to the forest and MISCAs left only Antibalakas over there....
In the end...the border is in the Antibalakas' hands, the rebels in the forest. The future? is completely in the dark. 
If MISCAs do not stay here, only a disaster is forseeable for the entire border area and its villages.
In bozoum, i met with public school staff and students at 4pm in order to see if it's possible to resume activities. They had to shut down last november, the 11th and then again on the 4th of December. the High school has been completely stripped to its bones (they stole doors, windows, boards and books). we asked everyone to look for the stolen material and see if we can resume school's activities on Monday.... We shall see!

Antibalaka à Bozoum... avec des toles volées
Antibalaka con armi e bagagli (lamiere rubate)


Boutques pillées en décembre par la Seleka à Ngutere
Negozi saccheggiati dalla Seleka a Ngutere

Ngaundaye: Pères Capucins et Soeurs polonaises à la prière du matin
Ngaundaye: i padri cappuccini e le suore polacche alla preghiera del mattino

le poste de santé de Hanzoung détruit par les Seleka le 4 février
il dispensario di Hanzoung distrutto dalla Seleka il 4 febbraio

Le poste de santé de Hanzoung
il dispensario di Hanzoung

Friday, February 7, 2014

Figaro qua, Figaro là

These days I've been around and visited communities in two nearby villages
Bocaranga: 125 km from here. Here the Selekas attacked on Tuesday on the 21st of January. They shot some refugees at the catholic mission and they stole everything they could. Once they left the Antibalakas completed the opera and plundered shops and burned several Muslims houses.
Bossemptélé, 87 km on the south side has been taken by the Antibalakas. They killed several people, plundered all Muslims and Peuls' belongings. 
Here in Bozoum, comparing the rest of the country the situation is better: the Antibalakas do not enter the city armed and despite few shootings per day, it is quite calm. On Monday morning Public schools reopened and this is good news. On Wednesday we had some UN visitors and we tried to push things a bit for the reconstruction. Along came some journalists. Here is the article from "le figaro" written by Adrien Jaulmes

Bozoum, specialist reporter
In the sticks as in the small city of Bozoum, father Aurelio is a celebrity. They all wave hello when he's passing by, and his car gets immediately surrounded when he stops. In the whole region his silhouette is well known.
He's as thin as a rake, 52, although he looks ten years younger, wears a small Wooden cross, blue shirt, shorts, red laterite sandals, trimmed beard. The Italian missionary is everywhere welcomed as the man who brings hope, support and reassurance.
Isolated in this small city, 400 km far from Bangui, only weapons: one mobile, a rare energy and infallible courage and moral fiber. For months now,  Father Aurelio has led an almost impossible fight.
Refusing violence's inevitability, he's been trying to stop the terrible circle of abuses and reprisals here in the Car.
As he wrote, he tried to "bring some humanity and rationality in the folly of this civil war".
Father Aurelio however didn't manage to stop all violences and destruction. In several occasions he managed to bring reason and sometimes to avoid the worse. Since many months now he's been warning as for those growing dangers. Then once the infernal machine started, he tried to intervene and have both parties to lay down their weapons, often disarming people himself, talking directly to these assassins, trying his best to calm down spirits and avoid bloodshed.
Aurelio arrived here in Car beginning of the nineties and since 2003 has been responsible for the saint Michel parish in Bozoum. The arrival of the Selekas transformed his apostolic mission. They came on the 26th of March 2013, as modern medieval bandits and as in the rest of the country they have been fierce predators in the territory: they stole, extorted, robbed, raped, ransacked, tortured, killed. "They were on the loose" told Aurelio, always trying to stop them to abuse people. " I often went to see their colonel Yahya Massar, at least one could reason with him, however his authority wasn't  always followed by his men".
Father Aurelio himself  experienced their brutality. "Selekas had tortured a young man for ten days. They had him tied up for so long that he lost his hands. I went to see them and told them they had no right to torture people. They told me they were soldiers, they could do as they pleased. One of them stood up and slapped me. I left. Anyways they did seem to fear me a bit...perhaps it's because they are cowards and in the end they always took it on the weakest ones....if one stood against them one could bend them, at least in some ways."
On his blog, Father Aurelio often told tales of these horrible abuses and pointed out the problems occurring here, tried to alert the international public, media and governments of this drama which eats up This country. "We immediately realized that Selekas' brutality would have disastrous consequences and that created immediate hatred between communities" said Aurelio."since August, many exasperated people organized a local militias called Antibalaka" the end of the Selekas'regime began in December with groups of African and French forces. In Bozoum as in the rest of the country was a new wave of destruction and killings. This time the roles were swapped. The Antibalakas, militias of farmers armed of rifles and machetes were attacking. Muslims and Peuls, wether right or wrong associated to Selekas and hated for this, became victims of violence
They reached the  End of the line on the 10th of January when Djotodia was forced to resign and the face of the Selekas was removed out of Bangui. Then the Selekas'gangs  rampaged up as if they wanted to leave only ashes and destruction behind.
With their Peul and Muslim friends they destroyed villages around the city terrorizing the population.
"They acted out of stupidity and cruelty rather than a precise reason" says Father Aurelio. At least 1300 houses had been burned. The people were so scared they fled to the forest or to the saint Michel mission in Bozoum. Boyele, a village just on the Northside has been completely destroyed by fire.  People are sitting on the steps of their poor houses now just ruins and try to pick up any small objects that hasn't been burned.
Some try to place some form of roof onto the charred walls. Boyele's people are alive only because they run away. "The morning of the 10th of January we heard canon shots" said a villager "so we run into the forest. Selekas and Peuls arrived and set the houses on fire. We all saw smoke rising to the sky. Once we came back here in the afternoon, everything was destroyed. We lost it all: seeds, harvest, furniture, house."
So the Antibalakas play their vendetta on isolated Muslims, setting ambushes on the roads. Muslims all regroup in Bozoum, the last village remaining in the Selekas' power, although they are now surrounded.
"The situation was extremely delicate" says Aurelio "we had 3500 refugees at the mission, almost 1500 Peuls at the mosque and about 50 armed Selekas in town, potentially dangerous" 
So the Father tried to mediate."they called me from Chad asking to organize the Muslim civils' evacuation, I said I was ok to do it only if the whole Selekas would agree to leave with them. I spent two whole days trying to make them go. Up until the very last moment they tried to stay. I ended up threatening the MISCA (multinational African military force) saying I would leave my car on the Ouham bridge to obstaculate their passage and that they would have to shoot me to pass." That bridge was built back in 1943 by Italian was prisoners, at the time of the Equatorial French Africa and it is still the only crossing point towards north and the Chadian border, therefore their only escaping route. Selekas eventually agreed to leave the city. 
Only this made Aurelio the bull's eye of the whole Muslim community which was angry at him making their only protection reference going away.
"It was a moment of tension" he said "many Muslims surrounded my car and began to throw stones" he remarked with  nonchalance. His toyota's windscreen looks like a mosaic.
"Surprisingly a Muslim and a Seleka called 10/15 who was one of the nastiest ones protected me".
So everyone in Saint Michel believed I was killed. "Once I got back it was like an explosion of joy, people thought it was a sort of miracle, they placed robes in the street to greet me, it looked a bit as Palm Sunday"
As soon as the Selekas' danger was over, Father Aurelio faces the population's vendetta. They went crazy after so many months of terrors. Often victims become perfect executioners. It's time for the Muslims to pay off for the abuses. The Antibalakas are now the issue" says Aurelio "for many are just delinquents with no chief. They are just there to vandalize, steal and kill. Some kidnap Peul children and demand ransoms, the destroy their properties and scatter their herds. It's hard to convince people to tell Muslim, Peul and Selekas apart, because the Muslims didn't definitely break away from the Selekas and now they pay the price for it." Without justifying anyone it's clear that father Aurelio has no doubts on what's causing these violent attacks.
"For example, Peuls are victims of their own mistakes, they weren't able to see ahead on the future. They allied  with Selekas without thinking  of the consequences. I did try to advise them, that one day they would find themselves in an impossible situation. With no possibility for them to stay in the villages they would end up having to move into town with their herds....but they didn't listen..."
Under the MISCA protection, here with a small section from Camerun, 2500 Muslims are now forced to live and stay in a small area in Bozoum. They sit on their bags and the few things they were able to bring along after the ransacks, these people are waiting to be transferred out of the country. " our time in CAR is over" said Djodo Mahamatom, delegate of Bozoum's trades, collector of gold and diamonds. "We cannot remain here".
Whole Peul families, semi-nomad shepherds with pale skin are cooking on small fires. Women are wearing colorful robes, have braided hair, wear silver necklaces and some have beautiful tattoos on their face and arms
Everyday Father Aurelio brings them rice which has bought himself.
"Bad father brings good stuff" said the neighborhood's chief, Saleh Ibrahim 
"He's joking" said Aurelio "that's what they called me when they wanted to kill me. Among these people, there are those who tried to stone me few days ago" and waved hello to those sitting on their bags as if nothing had happened.
"He's our only help" said Ibrahim "we lost everything, our shops have been plundered, our live stocks stolen. We cannot leave this road. Only few meters past the Cameron soldiers and the Antibalakas want to kill us and kidnap our kids. We're ready to leave this country but we have no trucks to do it" said the old chief, 45 years lived in Bozoum, "I'm old but the young ones need a safer place to live their life"
Saleh Ibrahim is one of the victims rather than being an ally of the Selekas. "It was their arrival that torn Bozoum apart" he said "before them there was no violence between Muslims and Christians. They did us wrong"
In Father Aurelio's opinion, this civil war has nothing to do with religion. "I strongly believe we should all avoid this word: there are no Christian militias, nor Muslim militias. This is mainly a political, ethical and cultural problem. I don't believe Selekas had Islamization project in mind. They were Muslims, spoke Arab and relied upon the Arab community here, the traders and the   
Breeders. Now what's done is done, it will be very difficult to go back the way it was"