CAR kill fest stopped - French army
04 February 2014, 09:12
Bangui - The violence in Central Africa has been "partly halted", the head of the French army said on Monday, even as reports emerged that at least 75 people had been killed in a single town.
France's chief of defence staff Edouard Guillaud said during a visit to the capital Bangui that the process of disarming both sides had begun, and that "the violence has been partly halted".
His visit comes two months after France sent troops into its former colony to stop the bloodletting between Christians and Muslims that began when the mostly Muslim Seleka rebellion overthrew the government last March.
It coincides with fresh reports of fighting in the west of the Central African Republic (CAR), underscoring the scale of the challenge facing the 1 600 French and around 5 500 African Union peacekeepers in the country.
Cassien Kamatari, a local priest, said at least 75 people had been killed since Tuesday in fighting in the town of Boda that was still going on.
Kamatari said his parish was sheltering 1 500 people who had fled the violence between Christians and Muslims in Boda, 100km west of the capital Bangui.
"Heavily-armed Muslims erected barricades at the entrance and exit to the town and launched attacks on Christians, forcing them to flee," he told AFP by telephone on Monday.
"At least 60 people were killed and many others injured, 15 of whom died of their injuries."
All those victims were Christian, he said. The number of Muslim victims could not be determined because their bodies were buried immediately.
The former French colony descended into chaos last March when the Seleka overthrew the government and installed one of their leaders, Michel Djotodia, as the country's first Muslim president.
The coup unleashed a cycle of inter-religious violence that has raged nearly unabated for 10 months despite the presence of French and African peacekeeping troops.
Around 80% of the population is Christian, but the CAR has a significant Muslim minority who live mainly in the north.
The security situation in the capital has improved since the peacekeepers' arrival, although there have been sporadic outbreaks of violence.
The threat from ex-Seleka fighters has largely been neutralised in Bangui.
But with international troops concentrated in the capital, witnesses said former rebels had launched attacks on several western areas in recent days.
Local resident Nicole Maleyombo gave a tearful account of how former Seleka fighters descended on the northwestern town of Ngaoundaye and began shooting indiscriminately.
"The local people all fled into the bush. They then started chasing people into the bush, and kept on shooting at them. We still don't know how many people were killed," said Maleyombo.
Kamatari said the fighting in Boda began after former Seleka rebels who were preparing to leave the area told the local Muslim population to group together so they could defend themselves against possible attack from Christians.
The fighting erupted on Tuesday after the former Seleka left the area.
"Those who have taken refuge in the parish have nothing to eat, they want for everything. While those who are still trapped in their homes are being hounded," said Kamatari.
He said he had appealed for help from the French force but so far had no response.