Soldiers of Congolese contingent peacekeepers of the Congolese Armed Forces (FAC) patrols the streets of Bangui, Central African Republic, 12 February 2014. Photo: EPA/ Legnan Koula
“A new group has to deal with the issues and problems of all Polish missions, not just in Africa, but on every continent,” said Marcin Wojciechowski from the Foreign Ministry as around 40 Polish monks refuse to leave Central African Republic amid worsening ethnic conflict.
“It's operations have to be far more wide-ranging, from security problems to legal questions concerning the clergy's work, and also questions relating to volunteers and funding, because Catholic missionaries are entrusted with tasks, and paid to do them, by the Foreign Ministry," the spokesman said.
The new group will function independently of the existing one led by the Ministry of Defence, and the Church has already approved a candidate, Father Kazimierz Szymczycha, to act as its representative.
Reluctant to leave
Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski has said that the most effective way to ensure the safety of the missionaries in the Central African Republic is for them to leave the country immediately.
“We remain ready to carry out the evacuation, together with our French partners,” he said.
“We warn that further delays could mean that it is too late."
However, Capuchin friars have repeatedly voiced their wishes to remain in the country.
“At the moment, it seems that in spite of tensions, the situation is improving,” commented Father Tomasz Grabiec from the Capuchin mission.
“However, humanitarian aid is essential,” he said.
Polish missionaries in the Central African Republic have witnessed repeated bouts of looting and violence in recent weeks, amid clashes between the predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels and Christians.
Fighting escalated in the country after interim Muslim leader, President Michel Djotodia resigned on 10 January, prompting Seleka fighters to pull out of the capital of Bangui.
France, the former colonial power in the region (until 1960), has 1600 troops stationed in the country, aided by 4000 peace-keeping troops from various African countries.
Fifty Polish pilots and logistics specialists flew out to the country last week, to assist French troops in the stabilization mission.
At present, Polish missionaries and their volunteers are active in 97 countries across the globe. (nh/pg)