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Catholic cathedral shelters 2,000 Muslims as violence flares in Central African Republic

Bullet-riddled roofs line the “boulevard of death” in Central African Republic’s southeastern town of Bangassou, where almost everyone who enters is seen as an enemy.

The city, spared sectarian bloodshed until May, now has more than 2,000 Muslim residents forced to take refuge at St Peter Claver cathedral after attacks by the mostly Christian anti-Balaka militia.

More than 300 people have been killed and 100,000 displaced since May as violence that began in 2013 moves into the impoverished country’s central and southeastern regions, prompting warnings of a national conflict roaring back to life.

In Bangassou alone, more than 150 people have died in fighting between militias and UN peacekeeping forces.

“We were driven out by force. We have lost our parents, our homes and all of our belongings,” said Djamal Haddine Mahamat-Salle, secretary-general of the organisation representing the town’s displaced Muslims. “It’s been two and a half months since we’ve been here, blocked without the ability to even go beyond 100 metres.”

Many said their departure from the cathedral could mean death.

“The anti-Balaka are everywhere. And as soon as you risk leaving, they will demand ransom,” said Zarah Mahamat. She said she tried to go to the market one day to buy vegetables for her children, who no longer have even rice to eat, and was stopped.

“I had to contact my parents in Bangui and they sent me the money to pay the ransom,” she said, still wearing the same clothes she had when she fled in May.

Read more at Catholic Herald.

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