Fighting brorke out between Muslims and Christians in Central African Republic’s capital, causing the deaths of at least three people on Wednesday. According to reports, angry residents threw grenades and set dwellings alight.
French and African troops sent to the country have struggled to stop the internecine violence between Muslim Seleka rebels, who seized power in March, and Christian self-defence militia. The fighting killed more than 1 000 people in December.
Residents of Bangui said that Seleka militiamen in civilian clothes threw grenades at Christian homes in a northern district of the city, burning them to the ground. Christian youths then launched reprisal attacks, torching nearby Muslim dwellings.
“The Muslims came and set fire to the houses … everyone was affected,” said Aristide Yenga, resident of the Ngou Simon neighbourhood in the north of the capital Bangui.
“This morning they began shooting and when we heard that we left for the larger (displaced persons’) camps.”
The corpse of a Seleka fighter with his left hand cut off and missing lay in the middle of a large dirt avenue following the attacks. A resident of the neighbourhood who asked not to be named said that two other Muslims had been killed there during the night.
No peacekeepers were present, although a French helicopter flew overhead, according to eyewitness reports.
Despite the ongoing faction fighting, interim President Michel Djotodia called for reconciliation during a New Year’s speech on Wednesday, suggesting everyone should return to their homes.
In the meantime, the president of the neighbouring Republic of Congo, Denis Sassou-Nguesso, warned of the “tragic and fatal” consequences for the region of CAR’s descent into civil war.
“It is imperative that we avoid such a disastrous outcome,” he said in a speech on Wednesday.
A doctor of the French NGO, Médécins Sans Frontières, at Bangui airport where it provides refuge for over 100,000 displaced people said it had received around 15 injured and two dead.
“Among the two dead was an adolescent of 12 years with a gash on his skull,” said MSF’s Gaetan Adouaka.
It was not clear if those killed were the Muslims from the northern district. The previous day a four-month-old baby died from a gunshot wound, the charity said in an earlier statement.
Aid workers say they are battling to provide for the country’s more than 800,000 displaced people, most of whom are now living in crowded refugee camps, because the constant violence is disrupting supplies.
Others have fled via boats across the Congo River or by air to other countries.
The Central African Republic is one of Africa’s poorest states despite enjoying abundant mineral resources. SInce independence from France in 1960, five coups have taken place. – News agencies and praag