CAR rebels seize town north of Bangui
31 January 2014, 18:30
Bangui - Fighters from the Central African Republic's Seleka rebel group violently seized a town north of the capital Bangui on Thursday, sending terrorised civilians fleeing, according to military and diplomatic sources.
A paramilitary police source told AFP a convoy of about 50 vehicles loaded with Seleka fighters surrounded Sibut on Wednesday night, committing atrocities against the population of the town about 180km north of Bangui.
The mostly Muslim fighters, reported to have been speaking only in Arabic, took full control of the town on Thursday.
A diplomatic source said the fighters, involved in weeks of horrific violence between Muslims and the Christian majority, were "regrouping" in the town.
It was not clear where the Seleka fighters had come from, but it was unlikely to be from Bangui, where the presence of the convoy would have been detected along the main road by French and African troops stationed in the capital.
France has a 1 600-strong peacekeeping force in its former colony, but none in Sibut. And a contingent of Gabonese troops from the African Union-led peacekeeping mission MISCA has withdrawn from the town, both sources said.
"The MISCA contingent drew back," said the diplomatic source.
However, a source at the mission said it was "aware of nothing" to do with the attack.
The paramilitary police source said the rebel convoy was headed by Mamadou Rakis, former deputy police chief under Michel Djotodia, the Seleka leader who installed himself as president in a March 2013 coup.
Djotodia was pressured to resign after failing to rein in violence by his former fighters, which led to the emergence of Christian vigilante groups known as "anti-balaka" (anti-machete) who carried out retaliatory attacks against Muslims.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) warned on Thursday that the situation was being repeated in other cities throughout the Central African Republic.
It said there were reports of clashes between Seleka and anti-Balaka fighters.
The fighting has caused even more people to flee their homes.
MSF said the northwest town of Bocaranga was deserted after residents fled.
The organisation's emergency co-ordinator Delphine Chedorge said Bocaranga was a "ghost town, empty, destroyed, looted. It's scary," she said.
In Bangui, French soldiers patrolled the streets and threatened to "use force" against a crowd of looters who wanted to take property belonging to Muslims in the Yangato neighbourhood, close to the airport.
Cycle of religious killings
Speaking into a megaphone, one French soldier told gathering crowds: "Disperse or we will use force against you."
The resulting cycle of religious killings has stunned the international community, and new interim leaders have yet to bring it under control.
Faced with the ongoing violence, United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon on Thursday made a passionate plea on a visit to Germany for more peacekeepers to be sent to the Central African Republic to stem the bloodshed.
"I would really hope that the international community takes decisive and prompt action," said Ban in Berlin.
"There are mass atrocities, extrajudicial killings and arbitrary detentions and arrests, sexual violence and the drafting of children for military purposes, so this is a very dangerous situation."
However, he praised a decision by the European Union to send in 500 troops to join the French force and 5 500 MISCA soldiers.