By Mick Krever, CNN
The top Muslim imam and Catholic archbishop in war-ravaged Central African Republic are coming together to advocate for peace and urge their communities to stop their brutal fighting.
“We are together to first prove to international opinion that the crisis is not religious,” Oumar Kobine Layama, president of the C.A.R. Islamic Community, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an interview that aired Tuesday.
“Religious temperament has been used for some people in order to reach their objectives, which is power,” he said.
Chaos struck the Central African Republic last year after a coalition of rebels dubbed Seleka, a predominantly Muslim coalition, ousted President Francois Bozize – the latest in a series of coups since its independence.
Christian groups, called anti-Balaka, sprung up in response.
They have continued their vicious vigilante fighting despite thousands of French and African peacekeeping troops, and the election last week of a transitional president.
The U.S. is calling for community leaders to step up to the plate, and Kobine his colleague Dieudonné Nzapalainga, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bangui, are doing just that.
They are calling for a United Nations peacekeeping force to step in to prevent a repeat of what happened in Rwanda 20 years ago; the U.N. Security Council discussed that issue on Tuesday in New York.
The imam and archbishop spoke with Amanpour in London after delivering a letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron, advocating their cause.
“The whole country has become a powder keg,” Kobine said. “A U.N. peacekeeping force could really respond to the size of the country and also to material means. And the African forces that are set up do not have these means, we must say the truth.”
“The country,” Nzapalainga said, “is paralyzed.”
The U.N. estimates that thousands of people have been killed in the violence, and more than two million are in need of humanitarian aid.
“If we let ourselves be led by violence, we are advocating violence and it is a vicious circle of reprisals and we will never stop,” Nzapalainga said.
Kobine chimed in, “The way to avoid this drama that we call genocide [is] that we have set to work to reduce tension, to reduce hatred, to also reduce intolerance, so that the crisis does not become general.”
They are trying to show the world – and perhaps their constituents – the conflict is not fundamentally a religious one.
“In my childhood at the time of the Christmas holidays, we shared our toys with Muslim friends,” Nzapalainga said. “At the time of Ramadan, we played. In the past we have never been enemies. We were brothers.”
“Let’s find our origins again. If we don’t know where to go, let us recall where we come from, where we brothers have been and let us stay together.”