Catholic parishes and members in the country of Mali, a nation located in Western Africa, faced threats by Islamic militants, claiming anyone found praying in churches would be killed.
According to Crux, a Catholic news organization, within the village Dobara, 500 miles north of Mali’s Capital of Bamako, armed men forced their way into a Catholic church, taking altars, crosses and a statue of the Virgin Mary which they then burned outside the parish. The men then forced members out of the building, warning the Catholics they would be killed if they were found praying.
Monsignor Edmond Dembele, secretary-general of the Malian bishops’ conference, told Jonathan Luxmoore from the Crux, that several Catholic churches have experienced attacks since late September.
Attacks began as the Malian government began trying to implement a peace deal previously made with rebel fighters in 2015, in which, fighters would integrate into the national army. Militants against the treaty continue to delay progress, according to the Crux.
“Christians aren’t the only ones threatened and attacked,” Dembele told Luxmoore. “Mali’s whole population is being victimized, Muslims included.“
In 2015, Mohamed Vall, reporter for Al Jazeera, reported many rebels held doubt with the newly signed peace treaty.
“Whoever talks of guarantees for ending the conflict only talks nonsense,” Ag Ehya, Malian veteran turned rebel, said to Vall. “This war cannot be ended with a stroke of a pen.”
Conflict between the government and militants began in the 1990s when separatists launched attacks on government buildings in Eastern Mali, reported IRIN, an independent agency that covers international crises. Since then, multiple attempts at peace have failed.
Ehya and other rebels fight in hopes of achieving an independent state within Northern Mali which they call the Independent Republic of Azawad. The current agreement allows only for a decentralized local administration instead of an entirely independent state, Al Jazeera reported.
Dembele told Luxmoore he still hopes the peace treaty will produce success despite the current situation, saying members and local parishioners are “very afraid but not panicking.”
“We have no security program of our own,” Dembele said, “And we rely on the authorities to provide protection and find solutions.”