More unrest in troubled CAR
Published 24/01/2014 | 20:47
Heavy gunfire erupted in Central African Republic's anarchic capital Bangui tonight.
The violence marks the latest unrest to shake the lawless country where thousands of French and African peacekeepers have been trying to calm a political crisis that has ignited unprecedented tit-for-tat killings by armed Christian and Muslim movements.
Armed members of a Christian militia were spotted moving into the predominantly Muslim neighbourhood of Miskine to attack positions held there by the Muslim fighters.
Rwandan peacekeepers - who are part of a 4,600-member strong African force trying to stabilise the beleaguered country - soon arrived on the scene and opened fire, sending people in the streets fleeing for cover into ditches and homes.
More than 1,000 people have died during several days of sectarian fighting sparked by an attempted coup by Christian fighters in December, and UN officials have warned the lingering anarchy could escalate into genocide. Hundreds more have been slain in recent weeks by marauding gangs wielding machetes, clubs and other weapons.
Earlier today, Christian militiamen killed a prominent Muslim former government minister who supported last year's rebellion, and Amnesty International reported that more than 50 Muslims had been killed in two attacks earlier this month in villages northwest of Bangui.
Dr Joseph Kalite, a former health minister who had supported coup leader Michel Djotodia, was assassinated, according to El-Hadj Wananga Kabara, an official at the Central Mosque in Bangui. Witnesses said Kalite died from machete wounds after his car was attacked by Christian fighters.
News of Kalite's death sent waves of fresh fear through Bangui's Muslim community and prompted several religious authorities to condemn international peacekeeping forces for failing to sufficiently protect Muslims.
"The imams announce that, starting today, they will let their followers decide themselves which reactions they deem most appropriate to this new provocation," said Ahmadou Tidjani Moussa Naibi, the imam at Bangui's Central Mosque.
The mostly Muslim rebels who overthrew the government in March 2013 became deeply despised by the Christian majority because of the killings and other atrocities they committed. For nearly 10 months the rebels known as Seleka targeted and tortured civilians, in some cases tying them together and throwing them off bridges to drown.
In response, Christian fighters have lynched scores of Muslims in the streets of Bangui, sometimes stoning victims to death and then mutilating their bodies. Muslim civilians, who have fled by the tens of thousands, insist they are not to blame for the rebellion aided by foreign fighters from Chad and Sudan. Their leader, Djotodia, stepped aside two weeks ago, and interim President Catherine Samba-Panza is now tasked with organising elections later this year.
Some 4,600 African peacekeepers are in Central African Republic, but 3,200 of them remain inside the capital. France also has sent 1,600 troops though few have reached the hot spots farther north.
Amnesty International called for the peacekeepers to deploy more robustly in the countryside to prevent revenge attacks.
"The Christian community has suffered enormously over the past year," said Joanne Mariner, Amnesty International's senior crisis adviser in Bangui. "The desire for revenge is palpable in CAR. Given how predictable such killings are, more robust peacekeeping steps should be taken to prevent them."
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