Bishop says he and three parish priests narrowly escaped being killed by Islamist rebels

A bishop in the Central African Republic has said that he and three parish priests narrowly escaped being executed by Islamist rebels.
Bishop Nestor Nongo-Aziagbia of Bossangoa said he and the priests were abducted during a parish visit.

“I was taken to the colonel, who accused me of ruining his plan to regain Bossangoa and putting defamatory statements against him on the internet,” he told the Vatican’s Fides news agency.

“The rebels removed my pectoral cross and episcopal ring. Then my three priests and I were brought to Sidot to be killed… But our convoy was stopped thanks to intervention by the international community and the commander of the local military area of Seleka, a general, who did not agree with the execution order,” the bishop said.

Their abduction came a week after a priest was shot dead in the town. Fr Christ Forman Wilibona was killed by Seleka militants in Bossangoa on Good Friday.

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Thousands of people have died and up to 1.5 million people have been displaced by violence since December 2012 when Arab-speaking Islamists, known as Seleka, began an offensive that resulted in the toppling of the government of president François Bozizé. The Seleka coalition was declared dissolved in September and a new president was inaugurated in January, but clashes have continued with groups from a mostly Christian militia, known as Anti-Balaka, despite the deployment of 2,000 French and 5,000 African peacekeepers.

Kim Pozniak of Catholic Relief Services, the aid agency of the US bishops’ conference, said she feared the planned deployment of 12,000 United Nations peacekeepers in September would be too late to safeguard the Central African Republic’s crucial planting and harvest seasons. “Many people are too afraid to work in their fields. If they don’t plant now, there won’t be a harvest and things will get much worse,” she said.

This article first appeared in the print edition of The Catholic Herald (9/5/14)

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