Central Africa rebels force Muslims to abandon faith, ban rebuilding of 400 destroyed mosques

The militia has also outlawed the wearing of traditional Muslim clothing, and made collective Friday prayers impossible.

MUSLIMS returning home to ethnically cleansed regions of the Central Africa Republic (CAR) are being forced to abandon their faith by Christian militias, Amnesty International said.

The Amnesty report, entitled “Erased identity: Muslims in ethnically cleansed areas of the Central African Republic,” said some Muslims living outside the protection of United Nations forces in the country’s west have been coerced to convert to Christianity, the London-based rights group said Friday in a report. 

The fighters, known as anti-balaka, have also banned reconstruction of an estimated 400 mosques destroyed in two years of upheaval, as well as the wearing of traditional Muslim clothing, it said. 

A 23-year-old former Muslim in the Sangha-Mbaere prefecture told Amnesty International: “We had no choice but to join the Catholic Church. The anti-balaka swore they’d kill us if we didn’t.”

“Having forced tens of thousands of Muslims to flee western CAR, anti-balaka militias are now repressing the religious identity of the hundreds of Muslims who remained or who have returned,” Joanne Mariner, Amnesty’s senior crisis response adviser, said in a statement.

“It is effectively illegal for us to pray,” said a Muslim trader in Mbaiki in the southwest. “We have to hide, do it quickly, and do it by ourselves. Collective Friday prayers are impossible.”

The nation has been gripped by lawlessness since an alliance of mainly Muslim anti-government militias known as Seleka overthrew President Francois Bozize in March 2013. The takeover was marked by the widespread killing of civilians. 

Reprisal attacks followed against Muslims by predominantly Christian fighters. 

At least 3,000 people have died in the violence, while more than 2.7 million need humanitarian aid and about 830,000 have fled their homes to neighbouring countries or camps because of the violence, according to the UN. 

Amnesty called on the government in Bangui, the UN mission to the country, and the international community “to support Muslims’ efforts to reintegrate into towns and villages across western CAR, and to strengthen the presence of peacekeeping forces to better protect communities from anti-balaka militias.”

-Bloomberg, and additional reporting by AFP.

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