, BANGUI, Central African Republic, Nov 29 – The unease was palpable among those tasked to secure Pope Francis in the Central African Republic Sunday, as he landed in Bangui for the last leg of his three-nation Africa visit.
Local security forces and UN peacekeepers swarmed M’Poko International Airport amid sweltering heat in bullet proof jackets, as armoured personnel carriers secured the precincts.
The grim situation in the CAR capital was evident as the Papal Flight landed in Bangui as thousands of displaced people crammed the fence at one side of the airport fence in a makeshift camp near the French and UN military bases.
On the way from the airport, tens of thousands of residents lined up the streets which were also heavily manned, to welcome the 78 year-old Pontiff who brushed off security concerns to ensure he held talks with the leadership of CAR, visited a refugee camp, celebrate mass and meet with Muslim leaders.
He was met at the airport by acting CAR president Catherine Samba-Panza and immediately headed for talks at the presidential palace.
Of concern to Pope Francis is that local and international mediation efforts should bear fruit to ensure reconciliation, disarmament, peacekeeping and healthcare.
On Monday, Pope Francis is expected to meet with the Muslim community at the Koudoukou Central Mosque before heading to celebrate mass at the Barthelemy Boganda Sports Stadium.
The Central African Republic has been in turmoil since 2013 when Francois Bozize was ousted as leader in a coup.
The conflict pits mainly Muslim rebels behind the coup and anti-Balaka militia in mostly Christian communities
Pope Francis left Uganda early on Sunday morning after a two day visit that saw him attend the 50th anniversary celebration since the canonization of Uganda’s Martyrs.
He is due to depart Bangui for Rome’s Ciampino International Airport later on Monday.