Pope Francis is calling for peace between Christians, Muslims in Central African Republic’s war-torn PK5

has ventured into one of the world’s most dangerous neighbourhoods to implore and to end a spiral of hate, vendetta and bloodshed that has killed thousands over the past three years and divided a nation.

Ending his three-nation Africa tour under intense security, Pope Francis passed through a no-man’s zone to enter , a district where most Muslims who have not fled Central African Republic’s capital Bangui have now sought refuge.

The PK5 neighbourhood has been cut off from the rest of the city for the past two months by a ring of so-called anti-balaka Christian militias, who block supplies from entering and Muslims from leaving.

A heavy deployment of with rifles and bullet-proof vests was present throughout PK5 and armoured vehicles mounted with machineguns were positioned along the route of Pope Francis’ motorcade.

UN sharpshooters looked out from the tops of the minarets crowning the mosque, where hundreds of PK5’s Muslims listened as Francis made an impassioned appeal for an end to the violence.

“Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters,” he said after a speech by Imam Tidiani Moussa Naibi, one of the local religious leaders trying to foster dialogue.

“Those who claim to believe in must also be and of peace,” he said, noting that Christians, Muslims and followers of traditional religions had lived together in peace for many years.

He appealed for “an end to every act which, from whatever side, disfigures the face of God and whose ultimate aim is to defend particular interests by any and all means”.

“Together, we must say no to hatred, to revenge and to violence, particularly that violence which is perpetrated in the name of a or of God himself. God is peace, ‘salam,'” the Pope said, using the Arabic word for peace.

‘Christians, Muslims obliged to love each other’

Healing rifts between Christian and Muslim communities has been a theme throughout Pope Francis’ first visit to the continent, which has also taken him to Kenya and Uganda.

However, nowhere is his call for peace and reconciliation more pressing than in Central African Republic, where thousands have died and hundreds of thousands have been displaced in clashes that have split the country along religious lines.

The Christians and Muslims of this country are obliged to live together and love each other.

Imam Naibi

Central African Republic descended into chaos in early 2013 when mainly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the majority Christian country, sparking reprisals from Christian militias.

Leaders from both sides say the hatred has been manipulated for political gain.

Tit-for-tat killings in and around the tiny PK5 enclave have claimed at least 100 lives since late September, according to Human Rights Watch.

Imam Naibi has called PK5 “an open-air prison”, but on Monday he struck a optimistic tone.

“The between our Christian brothers and sisters and ourselves is so deep that no manoeuvre seeking to undermine it will succeed,” he told the Pope.

“The Christians and Muslims of this country are obliged to live together and love each other.”

Both Christians and Muslims have welcomed the Pope’s visit, hoping he can spur renewed dialogue and help restore peace…………………

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