Pope Francis visited the Koudoukou Mosque in a besieged Muslim enclave of PK5 in the capital city of Central African Republic where thousands of people have died as a result of ongoing religious violence.
“Christians and Muslims and members of traditional religions have lived peacefully for many years,” he said. “together, we say no to hatred, to vengeance and violence, especially that committed in the name of a religion or God.”
The chief imam at the mosque, Tidiani Moussa Naibi welcomed Pope Francis and had a meeting with him. He said the meeting was “a symbol which we all understand.”
The Muslim population has been confined to enclaves such as the PK5 district in where 130,000 Muslims used to live, but where 15,000 now remain. Christian Anti-Balaka militias have set up barricades to stop supplies from going in to district and stop Muslims from coming out.
International watchdog organisation, Human Rights Watch released a report on November 26 particularly about the recent violence in the PK5 district between September 26 and November 13.
At least 100 Muslims had been killed and 1,075 structures including mosques destroyed around the district. 35,000 people had been displaced at the same time.
"We're living in an open-air prison," Ahmadou Tidjane Moussa Naibi, the imam at the mosque Pope Francis is due to visit, said earlier this week.
"We're deprived of everything. We don't have access to the hospital. We don't have access to education. We don't even have access to our cemeteries," he said.
Despite the ongoing violence, Pope Francis arrived to the capital Bangui on Sunday, marking his first conflict zone visit and the last step of his Africa tour after Kenya and Uganda, under the heaviest of security measures.
More than 3,000 peacekeepers from the UN mission force have been deployed along with French troops and Central African Republic’s 500 police officers.
On Sunday at the presidential palace in Bangui, the Pope called for unity and to avoid "the temptation of fear of others, of the unfamiliar, of what is not part of our ethnic group, our political views or our religious confession."
In March 2013, united opposition group Seleka -mainly Muslim- overthrew president Francois Bozize who has been highly criticised for corruption and abuses of human rights. After Seleka came to power and took control of the whole country, a militia group called Anti-Balaka started fighting against Seleka and carried out large scale attacks against Muslims in Central African Republic.
Also as a result of the attacks, hundreds of thousands of Muslim civilians have escaped to Chad, Cameroon or have gotten stuck in enclaves.
The UN children's agency, UNICEF said last Friday that more than one million children in the Central African Republic are in urgent need of humanitarian aid.
Some United Nations’ peacekeepers, including one French soldier, are facing accusations of sexual abuse in the country.
Diane Corner, Deputy Special Representative to the Secretary General in Bangui said, she has been made aware of 18 cases of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers in the 18 months since its mandate came into power, nine of which involved children.
United Nations’s peacekeeping forces, also known as MINUSCA, have been sent by the UN Security Council to stop the violence and help to stabilise the country.