- Pope Francis addresses last remaining Muslims in capital
- More than 100,000 Muslim residents left Bangui amid war
Pope Francis urged Muslims and Christians in war-torn Central African Republic to put an end to the violence during a visit to a mosque on Monday in the last remaining Muslim enclave in the capital, Bangui, before ending his three-nation African tour.
“Christians and Muslims need to forgive each other and reconcile so that they can live together in peace,” Pope Francis said in a speech at the mosque in the PK5 neighborhood, where fighting has flared up since September. The meeting was attended by the country’s main Muslim leader, Omar Kobir Layama, as well as dozens of non-Muslims who are normally barred from entering the area.
PK5 has become a symbol of the sectarian strife in Central African Republic. It holds about 15,000 Muslims, and is surrounded by hostile militia that have driven out tens of thousands of Muslims from other parts of the city. An estimated 122,000 Muslims lived in Bangui before the war began, according to Human Rights Watch.
After the visit to the mosque, Pope Francis reiterated his wish for reconciliation between the two groups during a Mass held at a football ground known as the Stadium of 20,000 Seats. Applause rang out for a group of Muslims who attended the Mass.
The diamond-producing nation has been gripped by violence since mainly Muslim rebels known as Seleka overthrew President Francois Bozize in March 2013, an ousting marked by the widespread killing of civilians. Christians set up a rival militia, the anti-balaka, which committed similar atrocities, according to the United Nations. Armed groups now control large swathes of territory as the interim government hasn’t been able to exert its authority outside the capital.