A rebel faction in the Central African Republic has murdered the son and grandson of one of the country's leading Christian leaders, a sobering new report has revealed.
Rev. Guérékoyamé-Gbangou, who is president of the country's Evangelical Alliance and vice-president of the Council of Elders set up to mediate peace, was working to negotiate peace between factions in the south-eastern city of Bangassou, when the town was taken over by an armed "Anti-Balaka" group (Balaka means "machete").
According to World Watch Monitor, as the pastor attempted to mediate and tend to the wounded, who had been prevented from reaching hospitals, he was shot at by vigilantes. While he survived, his son and grandson weren't so fortunate.
A local source told the outlet: "In Alindao the corpses still litter the streets. The houses are looted and burned. The population is fleeing to the Catholic Church or the United Nations site. Among the victims were the youngest son of Pastor Nicolas and his son. The government is powerless in the face of these attacks."
A short time earlier, the pastor's daughter died from a stress-related heart condition, which came on after the violence erupted in a feared renewal of a long-running civil war, WWM reports.
Al Jazeera notes that the violence represents a new escalation in a conflict that began in 2013 when mainly Muslim Seleka fighters seized power and ousted then-president Francois Bozize, prompting reprisal killings from anti-Balaka militias.
In a statement on Tuesday, Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said figures indicate up to 100 people may have been killed in three days of clashes from May 7-9 in Alindao between anti-Balaka fighters and an ex-Seleka group. Human Rights Watch also reports that at least 11,000 people have been displaced by the violence in the past few months. Six United Nations peacekeepers have also been killed.
Yonas Dembele, from the charity Open Doors' World Watch Research unit, said: "The spike in violence in the central and south-east parts of the country poses a huge security risk for both Christians and Muslims. The civil war, which ended in the precarious peace deals of 2013 and 2014, had been fought along religious lines, and this means that at least some of the reported reprisal killings will have been carried out on the basis of both ethnicity and religion.
"Unless the UN peacekeeping force in the country acts decisively to bring to an end these clashes, there is a risk that they will spread and the country might then descend into the instability and conflict of a renewed civil war."
Central African Republic is ranked 34th on the World Watch List of 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, according to Open Doors. The organization cites Islamic extremism as the primary source of persecution in CAR, even though Christians make up about 50% of the country's population.
Rev. Guérékoyamé-Gbangou has long been recognized for his peacekeeping efforts, receiving the 2015 Sergio Vieira de Mello Prize alongside a top imam, Oumar Kobine Layama, and an archbishop, Mgr. Dieudonné Nzapalainga.