Death toll in CAR clashes rises to almost 40

2013-10-29 15:57

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Bangui – At least 40 people were killed in weekend fighting between armed vigilantes and former rebels near Bouar in western Central African Republic, the army said on Tuesday, issuing a new toll.

"The fighting last Saturday between self-defence militias and ex-rebels killed almost 40 people, including at least 35 in the ranks of the militias, with several wounded," a source close to the general staff said.

A previous toll on Sunday said 12 people were killed.

Early on Saturday, hundreds of local militias armed with military weapons and machetes encircled Bouar, a town about 400km northwest of the capital Bangui on Saturday morning, the source said.

The militiamen were confronted by ex-rebels of the Seleka alliance, which has been disbanded by President Michel Djotodia since they brought him to power after ousting his predecessor, Francois Bozize, in March.

Bouar lies in a region of the highly unstable and very poor landlocked nation where people were considered loyal to Bozize, who himself seized power in a coup in 2003 and was twice re-elected into office.

The militiamen "attacked us with RPG 7 [rocket launchers] and Kalashnikov [assault rifles], as well as home-made rifles", a wounded former rebel colonel, Al Goni Moussa, said after his transfer to Bangui.

Intensity of the fighting

"The fighting lasted for more than two hours. We drove back the anti-balakas [militias]. Their leader, Francois alias 'Bokassa', was killed. His brother and his son were also killed," Moussa said.

The death toll could "rise further, in light of the intensity of the fighting that followed the attack on the ex-Seleka base and on the Bouar aerodrome by the self-defence militia," an army source said.

"This is really a rebellion taking shape," said a source in the president's office who asked not to be named. "Those who are behind this rebellion have also claimed responsibility for the attacks on Bossangoa and Bouca" in the northwest," he added.

Early in September, attacks by hitherto unknown militia forces that emerged to protect the population from local warlords killed almost 100 people in the Bossangoa region.

Atrocities blamed on Seleka forces - whom the regime is integrating into the regular armed forces - have led to communal violence, sparking fears that clashes may take a religious turn, pitting Muslims against Christians, who make up about 80% of the population of about 4.5 million.

Most of the fighters in the movements that formed the Seleka alliance profess the Islamic faith and Djotodia, who was sworn in on 18 August to oversee a transition back to democracy, is the country's first Muslim head of state.

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