Central African Republic: Families in Bouar seek refuge in church after rebel attacks

People living in Bouar in the Central African Republic sought shelter in the local cathedral after rebel attacks on January 7 and 9.
People living in Bouar in the Central African Republic sought shelter in the local cathedral after rebel attacks on January 7 and 9. © Facebook

Armed groups opposed to President Faustin-Archange Touadéra carried out attacks on the town of Bouar in northwestern Central African Republic on January 7 and 9. Since then, more than 5,000 people have sought refuge in the town’s cathedral. Even though calm has returned, the town remains paralysed and the humanitarian situation is getting worse, according to the bishop who has welcomed families into the cathedral.

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Blankets and mattresses cover the floors of the cathedral in Bouar, where mostly women and children have sought shelter. These images were posted on Facebook by the priest, Aurelio Gazzera, our Observer in Bozoum, a town about a hundred kilometres from Bouar.

#Centrafrique A Bouar des combats entre antibalaka + 3R et FACA. Tirs nourris depuis 10h45.Des centaines de familles refugiées dans les eglises et couvents de St.Laurent, St.Elie, à la Cathédrale, à Fatima.

Publiée par Aurelio Gazzera sur Samedi 9 janvier 2021

This post by Aurelio Gazzera explains in French that there has been fighting in Bouar between the Army and rebel groups. He explains that hundreds of families sought refuge in the churches and convents in St. Laurent and St. Elie, in the Cathedral and in Fatima.

"The church halls, the cathedral, the meeting rooms – they are all occupied by families”

Mgr Miroslaw Gucwa
Mgr Miroslaw Gucwa
Évêque de Bouar
Bouar, Centrafrique

The photos were taken by a priest in the Bouar diocese, where Bishop Miroslav Gucwa officiates. After the rebel attack, Gucwa opened his doors to displaced families:

Families started seeking shelter here on January 9. There are about 1,200 people in Bouar, but there are also 2,600 people sheltering in neighbouring Saint-Laurent parish and 300 at Notre-Dame-de-Fatima. Our reception centre was already almost full before the attack. Now, the church halls, the cathedral, the meeting rooms – they are all occupied by families.

People came to shelter at the church the day of the attack. Most of them are children, women and young people. Most of the men stayed at home to protect their belongings and keep an eye on the situation.

The families who have sought shelter in the cathedral fear the looting and robberies that many rebels carry out at night.
The families who have sought shelter in the cathedral fear the looting and robberies that many rebels carry out at night. © Miroslaw Gucwa
During the day, games are organised outside for the children.
During the day, games are organised outside for the children. © Miroslaw Gucwa

Gucwa was in the centre of town when Anti-balaka and 3R rebels clashed with the Central African Armed Forces (FACA) on January 9. After an initial clash two days earlier, the rebels carried out an attack on the camps where soldiers and peacekeepers from the United Nations mission, Minusca, reside. 

I was walking through the town centre with Minusca forces and we walked between two columns of rebels. Very violent fighting broke out shortly thereafter. Helicopters and fighter jets flew over the area where the fighting took place. We heard shooting between 11am and around 3 or 4pm.

 

In this post, journalist Marcelin Ridja explains that the security situation is still volatile in the CAR. He explains that two French fighter jets were flying over positions held by armed groups in Bouar. He encourages people to follow the extremely popular Radio Ndeke Luka radio station for news.

"The town remains paralysed”

Bouar has been calm since Sunday and life is slowly returning to normal. But rebels are still present in certain parts of town and many people still fear an attack, explains Gucwa:

People are living in fear, but they are living. When I went outside, I saw that the market in the town centre had opened again and the motorcycle taxis are circulating again. Even just two days ago, the streets were empty.

But the town remains paralysed. Schools and most offices are closed. Armed men are carrying out more and more looting and robberies at night.

 

Local journalist Marcelin Ridja took to Twitter to post photos of life slowly getting back to normal in Bouar, despite difficult humanitarian conditions.

Bouar, which has 40,000 and is the fifth largest city in the country, is located on the road between the Central African capital Bangui and Cameroon. For the past few weeks, the insecurity has prevented convoys of merchandise from Cameroon from reaching Bangui, leading to some shortages. The economic consequences of the insecurity are also being felt in Bouar:

Usually, lorry drivers stop in Bouar for food two or three times a week. Farmers can sell them their products to bring to down to Bangui. Now, small businesses are struggling. We are starting to face shortages. I went to one store and couldn’t find cooking oil. Another store was out of coffee. There was only about a quarter of the products they usually carry.

An offensive by the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC), a coalition made up of six armed groups, began during the presidential election in mid-December 2020. Current President Faustin-Archange Touadéra was re-elected on December 27. However, about two thirds of the country is currently occupied by armed groups and more than half of the population was unable to vote due to the insecurity.

Former president François Bozizé is suspected of leading the rebellion. Bozizé and his government were overthrown in March 2013 by the Séléka rebel coalition. He returned to the Central African Republic in 2019 after several years of exile in Uganda and attempted to run for president, but his candidacy was invalidated by a court. Instead, President Faustin-Archange Touadéra was re-elected after winning 53.92% of the vote in the first round.