Fr Aurélio Gazzera is the local diocesan Caritas director in Bouar in Northern Central African Republic
Scene from a Western
These days I had been in Bangui for meetings. Coming back Thursday, we arrived at the ‘PK12’ roadblock, the gateway and exit to the capital. Men belonging to Seleka forces, the rebel group who seized the country in March, asked to search the car. I told them that they had no authority to do so, but if the police want to do the search then fine. There were policemen on the other side of the street.
One of the rebels fighter insisted on carrying out the search. Again, I refused and we left. After 500 m, I saw in the mirror a rebel with a machine gun on a motorbike coming up behind the car. I was motioned to stop, and I did. The rebel pointed the gun in my face and told me to return to the checkpoint. He started to shoot at the tires and then in the air, expecting me to reverse.
With bullet holes now in the tires, I explained to him that I couldn’t move the car. A stray bullet had also hit a woman passerby. I was trying to calm the situation down, when luckily a joint patrol of Central African and Congolese soldiers came by. They tried to get the rebel soldier to relax and then we changed the tires of my car.
We went to a police station and called the local chief of police. The rebel who had shot at us was arrested. The rebel chief asked for a search of the car again and so the police chief asked what was inside and we told him 4 pots of paint. He was satisfied.
Scene from thriller
After buying two new tires, we were back on the road again heading for PK12. A government minister had now joined us and insisted on coming along (for our protection). A land cruiser with blacked out windows was waiting now at the roadblock. We passed it by.
But then further up there were two more pickups with rebels waiting on the road. We feared they were out for revenge or wanted to take one of us to bargain for their arrested colleague or were just angry because PK12 is a big source of income and we were threatening that lucrative sideline. We did a U-turn on the minister’s suggestion.
The rest of Thursday and Friday, we tried to get out of the city. But we needed to organise an escort and that was difficult to find. There was a UN plane, but not until next week and not to Bozoum. We could drive another way, but that would be long and wouldn’t be safe either. We resigned ourselves to wait.
Scene from a spy story
On Saturday morning , it rains for 4 hours. After prayer and Mass , I said to my companions that we could take advantage of the weather to try to pass. All agree. We pick up Joseph, our driver, and his wife and we hit the road. I get in the back, disguised in dark glasses and a sweater.
We arrive at PK 12. Joseph goes to sign the necessary paper work ( and pay the 1000 f cfa bribe). Then Seleka revels says they want to search the car. But before the search can start, the police stop the rebels, saying that NGO or Mission vehicles are only to be searched by the police.
After ten minutes waiting in silence in the car, with the windows now fogged up, we hear someone shout to Joseph if he has Fr Aurelio with him. It’s a policeman who had been at the seminary. It’s a moment of terror. Luckily, he sees Fr Stefano and they greet each other. Finally we leave.
Scene from a tragedy
Why all this? It is absurd that the entrance to the capital is left in the hands of the rebels who act like cowboys. It is absurd that people should continue to support all these atrocities and injustices . It is absurd that the government fails to do its duty and allows an armed man to shot in broad daylight in one of the busiest places in the capital city.
I hope and believe that speaking about the risks involved in this work can be used to change something …