BANGUI - The installation of a Muslim president in Central African Republic after a military coup is raising religious tension in the Christian-majority country, amid calls from religious leaders for calm.
We are sitting on a bomb. An evil sorcerer could blow up the whole house," Dieudonne Nzapalainga, the Catholic archbishop of Bangui, told Agence France-Presse on Sunday, March 31.
I don't want us to underestimate the problem.
Michel Djotodia declared himself the country's first Muslim leader after seizing power in a coup that ousted president Francois Bozize on March 24.
The coup capped months of rebellion against the former ruler in which religious tensions flared between religious minorities.
Since Djotodia and his Seleka rebel coalition began their rebellion in December, they faced accusations by the Bozize's regime of preaching Wahhabism" and terrorism.
During the crisis Bozize's supporters set up so-called self defense committees which erected roadblocks around the capital Bangui and often lashed out at Muslims whom they associated with the rebels.
At the same time, the rebels leaned on the Muslim community which carried out fundraising for them.
Ousting president Bozize last week, Djotodia has promised residents to apply a secular rule.
"The Central African Republic is a secular state," Djotodia said on Friday.
"It is true that I am Muslim, but I must serve my country, all Central Africans."
He, however, said that "some people with bad intentions want to lead the country into inter-religious conflict."
The country of nearly five million people is mostly Christian, with about 15 percent Muslims who are concentrated in the north where the rebellion started.
The different religions have always coexisted peacefully and leaders from both sides have urged people not to confuse the fact that there is a Muslim leader, with the "Islamization" of the country.
Religious leaders have thrown their weight behind the new president's call for calm.
The new authorities are not there for a religious goal but a political goal," said Pastor Nicolas Guere Koyame, leader of the Alliance of Evangelists in the Central African Republic.
They must present their political agenda to convince the population.
Similarly, Imam Oumar Kobline Layama, president of the Islamic Community, said the rebels should not play into the hands of those "who want to turn this change into a religious problem."
"We must not destroy this cohabitation that we have had for more than 50 years," he said.
"I ask Muslims not to say: 'today it's our turn'. There is no 'turn', we are all Central Africans.
The leaders of Seleka must keep to the principles of Islam. Islam does not encourage division or theft or looting," he added.
The archbishop Nzapalainga also called for Central Africans not to mix up religion and politics.
"The reason for the crisis is not religious but political, he said.But along the way, words and actions toward the Christian community have given the impression this is a religious crisis.