Scores of people have been killed in sectarian clashes in Central African Republic between local militias and former rebels, witnesses and a local official said.
Mostly Muslim Seleka fighters attacked Christian civilians in the mining village of Gaga, around 250km northwest of Bangui, witnesses said. Seleka gunmen, many of them from neighbouring Chad and Sudan, have repeatedly been accused of desecrating churches and terrorising Christian communities.
“The Seleka fighters went door to door. It was total terror,” Raymond Kitivo, who was wounded in the attack, told the Reuters news agency.
“We’re waiting for reinforcements in order to go there but the different accounts we’ve gathered from survivors coming from Gaga lead us to believe there are over 60 dead,” said Judicael Kama, a gendarme in the nearby town of Yaloke.
The attack is said to be retaliation for an attack on Monday led by local self-defence militias, known as “anti-balaka” or anti-machetes, on a Seleka position, killing four ex-rebels before targeting Muslim civilians.
Many of those wounded in the violence were taken to Yaloke’s hospital, around 35km from Gaga.
The violence erupted less than a week after at least 14 people were killed in fighting between Muslims and Christians in the isolated eastern town of Bangassou, in further evidence that the clashes are becoming increasingly sectarian.
The mineral-rich but impoverished nation has descended into chaos since Seleka rebels from the north seized the capital Bangui in March, ousting President Francois Bozize.
The new transitional government’s failure to stem the violence has prompted the UN Security Council to consider intervening to restore order.
UN officials and rights groups say both Seleka and their opponents may have committed war crimes in the past few months.
Last month, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the Central African Republic was risking becoming a new Somalia if it does not get immediate support. He is expected to visit Bangui on Sunday to assess the situation.
Security Council diplomats may vote on Thursday on a French-drafted resolution calling on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to submit a report on possible international support for a planned African Union peacekeeping mission known as MISCA.
According to the draft, Ban’s report should include “the possible option of a transformation of MISCA into a United Nations peacekeeping operation, subject to appropriate conditions on the ground”.
Though the African Union plans to deploy the 3,600-strong MISCA mission, incorporating a regional force of 1,100 soldiers already there, it is unlikely to be operational before 2014.