Baptist elder and aid workers massacred by Islamic rebels

Six aid workers, including a Christian father of seven, were massacred in an ambush by armed militants in the Central African Republic. 66-year-old Gabriel Ole, who served as a church elder for a Baptist church in the capital of Bangui, lost his life during the attack that occurred in the northeastern border town of Markounda on 25 Feb.

The other victims were also CAR citizens. They included two officials with the country’s education ministry, an education consultant for the United Nations Children’s Fund and three employees of a local UNICEF partner. Some of the victims were shot, while others had their throats slit.  In addition, their vehicle was set on fire.

The CAR Prime Minister, Simplice Matthieu Sarandji, visited Markounda to honour the victims of the attack. He stated: “School is the key to developing a country. Any attack against teachers is a crime against the education of our children.”

UNICEF issued a statement saying: “We strongly condemn this senseless act against aid workers who were there to improve the lives of the most vulnerable populations. We offer our deepest condolences to the families and the colleagues of the victims.”

Although UNICEF did not name those responsible for the attack, World Watch Monitor reports that the killers are believed to be affiliated with the Mouvement National de Libération de Centrafrique, an outfit of the Séléka rebel faction that has troubled the nation since 2013.

The latest attack on aid workers in Markounda follows a similar incident in the town of Gambo in August last year when dozens of people including 10 Red Cross aid workers were killed during an attack carried out by Séléka militants.

According to the charity Aid to the Church in Need, Bishop Juan José Aguirre-Muñoz of Bangassou recently described CAR is a “failed state.” He stated that since the arrival of the fundamentalist Islamic Séléka group in 2013, the country has been “without an army, without police, without a judicial system.”

“The people are tired, abandoned, left to themselves. Entire neighbourhoods have been razed to the ground because the Muslim mercenaries have used fire as a weapon of war. Almost a million refugees are currently sheltering in the Congo,” the bishop explained. “Over half the population are in need of food aid, and infant mortality has increased considerably as a result of the war and violence. The educational system has not been functioning for years, and the health system is non-existent. Our medical centre in the north of the diocese has been destroyed, along with our mission. Now nothing is left but the foundations.”

Despite the persecution of Christians by Islamic militants, the Catholic Church has provided shelter to numerous displaced Muslims. “We have held out the hand of friendship to those who attacked us because that is what the Church does,” Aguirre-Muñoz said.

CAR is identified as a nation of serious concern in ACN’s 2017 Religious Freedom Report.The civil war in the country has resulted in widespread violence and atrocities against Christians at the hands of militant groups on both sides of the conflict. Church buildings have been burned and ransacked and numerous church leaders violently attacked. Large numbers of people including thousands of Christians have been displaced as a result of the conflict, forced to abandon their homes, relocate to refugee camps and relinquish their livelihoods.

ACN Malta