November 13, 2015 / 7:05 AM / 4 years ago

Central African govt seeks to reassure Vatican over pope visit

BANGUI (Reuters) - Political and religious leaders in Central African Republic on Thursday sought to assure the Vatican on the pope’s safety ahead of a November visit as the United Nations also prepares to ramp up troops.

Pope Francis waves as he arrives to lead the weekly audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican November 11, 2015. REUTERS/Max Rossi

Pope Francis’ November 28-29 visit comes amid intensifying violence in a two-year inter-religious conflict that has pitted mostly Muslim rebels against Christian militias, killilng dozens in the capital Bangui since late September.

The pope hinted in a speech that his trip could be cancelled in early November in the first indication the trip may be in jeapordy.

“The government has put in place a plan to secure the pope’s visit,” said General Chrysostome Sambia, minister of public security. “I will do my very best to ensure it is well-implemented.” Deputy archishop for Bangui Jésus Martial Dembele expressed hope that the trip would proceed peacefully.

A U.N. official said its peacekeeping mission (MINUSCA) plans to add an extra 750 troops and 140 police in time for December elections, set to end a transition period.

“Some reinforcements should be in theatre before the Pope’s visit,” the official said, adding that MINUSCA was working closely with both the government and the Vatican on the visit.

Former colonial power France said earlier this week it has halted for now its drawdown of troops which once numbered 2,000 but have been scaled back as U.N. reinforcements arrive.

But there was no abatement in violence on Thursday.

An internally displaced man seeking shelter at the Church of our Lady Fatima was killed when he returned to the mostly Muslim neighbourhood of PK5 to fetch his belongings, residents said.

Two other displaced people were killed in a camp in Bambari by suspected members of Seleka faction Union for Peace in Central Africa, following the deaths of seven civilians in another camp in Batangafo earlier this week.

Central African Republic descended into turmoil in March 2013, when Seleka rebels seized power, prompting reprisal attacks from militias drawn from the Christian majority.

Their rebel chief later ceded power to an interim government led by President Catherine Samba-Panza but peace has proven elusive. On Tuesday, interim authorities said long-delayed presidential and parliamentary elections would take place on Dec. 27 with a second round, if needed, planned for Jan. 31.

Reporting by Crispin Dembassa-Kette and Michelle Nichols in New York; Writing by Emma Farge; editing by Ralph Boulton

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