Bloodbath in Bangui

2013-12-05 20:23
Shrouded bodies lay in a mosque in Bangui, Central African Republic, following a day-long gun battle between Seleka soldiers and Christian militias. (Jerome Delay, ap)

Shrouded bodies lay in a mosque in Bangui, Central African Republic, following a day-long gun battle between Seleka soldiers and Christian militias. (Jerome Delay, ap)

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Bangui - Violent clashes left scores of people dead in Bangui on Thursday as the United Nations authorised French-backed military intervention in the imploding Central African Republic.

AFP reporters counted 54 corpses in a mosque in the PK5 area of the capital and another 25 lining surrounding streets, all of them with bullet or machete wounds.

"The bodies were brought here this morning by people from the surrounding area," a mosque official who requested anonymity told AFP. The mosque was full of distraught men and women who had come to look for missing loved ones.

The Doctors Without Borders charity reported at least ten dead in one hospital and another 65 people wounded as a result of clashes that erupted overnight.

With other clinics still to be checked, the death toll from what appeared to be sectarian violence looked certain to mount.

The violence forced France to deploy 250 of the 600 troops it already has in its former colony to the city centre, and transitional president Michel Djotodia declared an all-night curfew.

In New York, the UN Security Council unanimously backed a French-drafted resolution authorising the deployment of up to 3 600 African and 1 200 French troops to try and contain the violence.

The country's prime minister, Nicolas Tiangaye, had earlier urged France to start moving extra troops in as soon as the UN Security Council issued a green light. That looked set to happen with French President Francois Hollande having called a meeting with his military top brass for 1700 GMT.

"Given the urgency, my desire is that the intervention happens as soon as possible, immediately after the resolution", Tiangaye - who is in Paris for a Franco-African summit that kicks off Friday - told AFP in an interview.

Hollande was expected to order a further 600 French troops to move into CAR over the weekend to back up the MISCA, a 2 500-strong African force already on the ground.

Litany of horrors

The CAR has plunged into chaos after the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted the president in a coup in March, with Muslim and Christian groups fighting each other and tens of thousands of terrified people taking refuge in churches and mosques, fearing sectarian attacks.

Reports have described a litany of horrors, with security forces and militia gangs razing villages, carrying out public execution-style killings and perpetrating widespread rapes.

In a radio-television broadcast, President Michel Djotodia told scared residents to "keep calm" and extended a curfew in the capital by four hours, from 18:00 (17:00 GMT) to 06:00 am, compared to 22:00 previously.

The UN resolution also orders an arms embargo against the huge, impoverished nation.

The intervention will be France's second military operation in Africa this year, after Hollande sent more than 4 000 troops to oust Islamist rebels in control of northern Mali in January.

Tiangaye said international forces would likely be able to quickly secure Bangui but emphasised that troops had to go to other parts of the country where massacres are being committed without any witnesses.

'Total breakdown in law and order'

The UN resolution highlights the "total breakdown in law and order" in the state which, it adds, risks "degenerating into a countrywide religious and ethnic divide, with the potential to spiral into an uncontrollable situation."

The council gave the French-backed African force a 12-month mandate and the right to use "all necessary measures" to restore order.

United Nations leader Ban Ki-moon has warned that up to 9 000 troops could be needed if the crisis blows up and a full UN force has to take over.

Wreak havoc

Tiangaye said the number of troops due to be authorised by the United Nations would be "insufficient given our needs for security."

"Everything must be done for the country to return to calm, humanitarian aid is needed to help distressed people and we need economic and financial backing to support the government in order to manage the transition period," he added.

Violence has spread through the country of 4.6 million since president Francois Bozize's overthrow.

A top rebel chief, Djotodia took over as president following the coup, becoming the first Muslim leader of the majority Christian country that has for decades been prone to coups, rebellions and mutinies.

Djotodia formally disbanded the Seleka but ex-rebels continued to wreak havoc. Locals responded by forming vigilante groups and the government quickly lost control of the landlocked country.

Senior UN, US and French officials have warned that if left unchecked the unrest risked degenerating into genocide in a country where the Christian and Muslim communities have generally co-habited peacefully through the nation's various upheavals.

The UN resolution calls on Ban to recommend within three months whether a full UN peacekeeping mission should step in.

France has led calls for a UN force but the United States and other Security Council members are more cautious.

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