May 26, 2014
JONATHAN LUXMOORE
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

Catholic bishops in conflict-torn Central African Republic warned that their country's wildlife and natural resources are being plundered by outside groups.

The country needs more effective leadership from the transitional government to deal with the ecological crisis in the war-torn nation, the bishops said.

"This crisis, with its insecurity and violence, are providing the instability which favours the anarchic and illegal exploitation of our resources," the permanent council of the country's bishops' conference said in a May 12 statement.

"We appreciate the international community's mobilization, and all efforts made to resolve the crisis, which sadly continues to throw families into mourning, take away innocent lives and cause great material damage throughout our national territory.

"But the record till now has been negative," the statement said.

The bishops cited the butchering of hundreds of elephants for their ivory in the Dzanga Sangha Reserve in the southwestern part of the country, as well as the slaughter of sheep and cattle belonging to local tribesmen.

They added that the eco-system was being threatened by the failure of forestry companies to replant destroyed areas. Meanwhile, the hunt for diamonds and other mineral deposits was "fueling the conflict and causing more innocent blood to flow."

The bishops said the crisis is "a windfall" for armed groups and poachers from neighbouring Chad and Sudan who "launched an irrational massacre of other protected species with a joyful heart."

"Human life and dignity no longer have value here. Killings and robberies are committed with total impunity, and the Central African Republic has become an open-pit prison," they said.

GOVERNMENT CRITICIZED

"The transitional president and government should be paying greater attention, notably to issues of national security, protecting the physical integrity of citizens and their possessions, the internally displaced and their resources now being pillaged."

The statement was issued as police in the capital Bangui confirmed 13 villagers were burned alive at Kaga Bandoro by armed men from the Arab-speaking Islamist Seleka rebels.

As well, a French photojournalist, Camille Lepage, was reported killed at Bouar by members of the rival Anti-Balaka, a mostly Christian militia.

The security situation has "greatly worsened" in recent days, as Seleka and Anti-Balaka remnants "made the most of their power to harm," and attempted to "retake power by force," the bishops said.

The bishops' statement said 838,000 people, a fifth of the population, have been internally displaced by continuing violence. More than 313,000 now live in 66 separate camps in the capital of Bangui, and another 245,000 have fled to neighbouring countries.