Pope Francis is worried that persistent fighting in the Central African Republic may impede his visit to the country. Photo: ReutersPope Francis is worried that persistent fighting in the Central African Republic may impede his visit to the country. Photo: Reuters

Pope Francis indicated yesterday that his planned visit to the Central African Republic this month could be cancelled if violence between Christians and Muslims there continues or even gets worse.

Speaking to tens of thousands of people in St Peter’s Square, the Pontiff called for an end to the “cycle of violence” in the country he is scheduled to visit November 28-29 as part of a trip that will also take him to Kenya and Uganda.

Pope Francis spoke of the “trip I hope to be able to make to that nation”. He has previously simply said he would go.

A senior Vatican source said the phrasing was chosen because of the violence in the capital Bangui, where the Pope is scheduled to visit a mosque in one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods.

“If the situation worsens, he will not be able to go and he is aware of that,” the source said.

Last Thursday, four people were killed by mobs, bringing last week’s death toll to 11, including three negotiators for the Muslim Seleka alliance visiting Bangui for peace talks.

“They burned around 100 houses in the Kina neighbourhood and the other surrounding neighbourhoods,” one resident said. “I live just behind the Kina church and my house was burned down. The church was also burned down.”

Mostly-Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the majority Christian nation in a coup in 2013, prompting reprisals by Christian militias known as anti-balaka.

Muslims and Christians have since split into segregated communities across the landlocked former French colony.

They burned around 100 houses – the church was also burned

Tens of thousands of Muslims have fled to the far north, creating a de facto partition.

Apart from threatening the Pope’s visit, the violence might wreck plans to hold long-delayed elections in December.

The violence in the Central African Republic has flared despite the presence of thousands of UN peacekeepers (MINUSCA), who Vatican sources have said would be involved in protecting the Pope if he visits.

On Friday Central African Republic’s interim president replaced the defence, public security and justice ministers, state radio said, weeks before national elections that are meant to restore democratic rule after years of bloodshed.

Catherine Samba Panza’s decision follows consultations this month that began in the wake of inter-religious violence that killed 77 people in the capital Bangui in September.

The country is preparing for presidential and parliamentary elections on December 13

Witnesses said the situation was calmer by Friday but some fear the recent spike in violence might threaten the polls.

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