At least 15 killed, including priest, in Central Africa clashes
BANGUI - Agence France-PresseAt least 15 people, including a priest, were killed and several others wounded in clashes Wednesday in the capital of the strife-torn Central African Republic, a military source said.
The violence erupted in the afternoon close to the Our Lady of Fatima church in central Bangui, where thousands of displaced people have sought refuge, according to a police officer and a military source.
A 76-year-old priest, Paul-Emile Nzale, was among those killed in the violence near the church, Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga told AFP.
"One can only feel sadness about these deaths. For several days there have been clashes in this neighbourhood," he added.
The church is in a neighbourhood where both Christians and Muslims live. The majority Christian country has been wracked by relentless tit-for-tat attacks between Christian vigilante groups and the mainly Muslim ex-Seleka rebels who had seized power in a coup which ended in January.
An initial toll spoke of 10 people killed by late afternoon.
Later Wednesday that figure had risen to 15 dead with a further 30 people wounded as the violence continued, according to a military source in Bangui.
Others sources reported even heavier casualties. The African peacekeeping force in the country, known as MISCA, spoke of 20 people dead.
Five bodies were taken to the hospital morgue and the situation remained very tense, an AFP correspondent reported.
Shots were heard in several districts of Bangui, notably in Boy Rabe and Fouh, fiefdoms of the Christian "anti-balaka" militia.
Exchanges of gunfire also continued near a mainly Muslim neighbourhood of Bangui, where helicopters were seen flying over the area.
Barricades had also been erected in several areas, military and police sources said.
Violence in Bangui in the past several days has sparked a renewal in heightened tensions between Christians and Muslims, a source close to the French peacekeeping force in the country told AFP.
Out of the 2,000 French soldiers deployed to the CAR, some 700 have been assigned to patrol the streets of Bangui in light armoured vehicles, but the city is still gripped by violence.
The African MISCA forces has a little over 5,000 soldiers deployed in the country.
Deeply impoverished Central Africa has been in crisis since the Seleka alliance seized power in a March 2013 coup led by Michael Djotodia.
Splinter groups of Seleka rebels went rogue, embarking on a campaign of killing, raping and looting.
The abuses prompted members of the Christian majority to form vigilante "anti-balaka" groups, unleashing a wave of tit-for-tat killings that has left thousands dead and close to a million displaced.
Three people were decapitated on Sunday near a football match organised in Bangui in an attempt to reconcile Christians and Muslims.
Djotodia, now in exile in Benin, was replaced as president by interim leader Samba Panza in January after failing to stop the bloodshed.