Pope Francis blesses a sick boy during a special audience for members of Opera Don Guanella yesterday. Photo: ReutersPope Francis blesses a sick boy during a special audience for members of Opera Don Guanella yesterday. Photo: Reuters

Pope Francis’s trip to Central African Republic, which has been rocked by strife between Christians and Muslims, is still scheduled to go ahead despite warnings from France of major security risks, Vatican sources said yesterday.

The former French colony descended into inter-religious violence two and a half years ago after mainly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power, sparking reprisal killings by Christian anti-balaka militias.

The Pope is due to visit the country on November 28-29 despite intensifying violence that has killed dozens in the capital Bangui since late September. His trip is scheduled to include a visit to a mosque in one of Bangui's most dangerous districts. French officials have said the Pope should consider scrapping the trip or scaling it back.

One Vatican source said the Pope “really wants to go and skipping it would be seen as a defeat”. France has troops in the country but the defence ministry source said: "Our forces can secure the airport and provide a medical evacuation capacity in case of an accident” but no more than that. Central African Republic's political and religious leaders have sought to reassure the Vatican.

At least 22 people had been killed in a string of raids on villages

“The arrival of the Pope will be a great blessing, and I want it to happen regardless of the fate reserved for us,” interim President Catherine Samba-Panza, a Christian, told French radio station RTL.

A local official and state radio reported yesterday that at least 22 people had been killed in a string of raids on villages in Central African Republic this week. France sent soldiers in 2013 in an attempt to stem the bloodshed.

Muslims and Christians have since split into segregated communities.

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