OXFORD, England (CNS) — A Catholic religious order has urged international action to stem “uncontrolled lawlessness” in the Central African Republic, after one of its Italian missionaries was threatened with death by rebel soldiers.

“Let us pray that peace may return in this country torn apart by different factions,” the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Betharram order said in a Sept. 30 statement on its website.

“This new act of looting was carried out by rebels from the Seleka movement, who are now uncontrolled and uncontrollable by the authorities. Can we even speak of any authority?”


The statement said rebel soldiers, “armed to the teeth” with Kalashnikov assault rifles, had bound and gagged Father Beniamino Gusmeroli and African Brother Martial Maru during a Sept. 28 raid on Our Lady of Fatima mission in Bouar.

It added that the soldiers, who appeared to be Sudanese, had threatened to kill the mission doorkeeper and “turned everything upside down,” taking money, computers and “everything of value.”

“This action is a sign of how the situation is deteriorating,” the order added. “No glimmer of change is in sight unless the international community intervenes quickly and firmly.”

The attack is the latest on foreign missionaries by Seleka, composed partly of Arab-speaking Islamists, which suspended the constitution after seizing the capital, Bangui, March 24.

Another Italian, Carmelite Father Aurelio Gazzera, told Fides, the agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Sept. 18 he had been slapped and warned he would be shot when he tried to persuade Seleka gunmen to release some captured youths.

The Carmelite said acting President Michel Djotodia’s September decree dissolving Seleka had been “window dressing,” adding that the rebels, estimated at 25,000, intended to stay and “extort as much as possible from a poor population.”

Meanwhile, Spanish-born Bishop Juan Aguirre Munoz of neighboring Bangassou Diocese told Fides Oct. 1 the situation had become “explosive,” with the whole population “trapped like in a concentration camp,” adding that local residents, armed with machetes, had begun setting up barricades to stop “constant harassment” by Seleka.

The bishop said he believed the real problem was not “a clash of religion,” adding that he had asked a local imam to help restore peace.