Aid officials in Central African Republic have said that more than 500 people had been killed over the past week in sectarian fighting.
Antoine Mbao Bogo with the local Red Cross said late on Tuesday that aid workers had collected 461 bodies across the capital of Bangui since Thursday. That figure does not include the scores of Muslim victims whose bodies were brought to mosques for burial.
France deployed around 1,600 troops in the country after fighting between Muslims and Christians escalated.
French forces are trying to disarm militias awash in automatic weapons in cities and towns, where would-be fighters are tough to distinguish from civilians. Two French soldiers were recently killed while carrying out operations against militias in the capital, Bangui.
The security and humanitarian situation in the country is deteriorating to alarming levels, London-based rights group Amnesty International said on Wednesday, revealing that its team saw 15 bodies awaiting burial outside a mosque in the capital on the same day.
Muslim leaders in Bangui told Associated Press news agency on Wednesday that at least four men had been killed by French forces during disarmament efforts in the last several days.
|Nazanine Moshiri blogs from CAR|
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Al Jazeera’s Nazanine Moshiri, reporting from a church in Bangui on Wednesday, said that hordes of people running away from violence were seeking refuge in similar places. She also said United Nations organisations such as the World Food Programme and UNICEF were distributing food, hygiene kits and other sorts of aid in such places, which are filled with people seeking shelter.
“Muslims and Christians lived in this country peacefully for hundreds of years. What is happening is tearing apart communities,” she said.
“What everyone here is saying is that they need protection. If they do not get it, they will take the matter in their own hands. And that is the biggest fear here: people starting to take up arms.”
Francois Hollande, the French president, accompanied by his Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, visited the violence-hit country on Tuesday.
Addressing French troops on the ground, he said that France’s intervention in CAR is dangerous but “necessary” to avoid a bloodbath.
The French campaign to pacify its former colony is “necessary if one wants to avoid carnage here”, Hollande said.
“For weeks, massacres were conducted and horrendous violence was done to women and children.”
The fighting in the former French colony is between the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels – originally from neighbouring Chad and Sudan – and the Christian anti-Balaka whose name means “anti-machete”, the weapon of choice for Seleka.
The Christian fighters oppose the Muslim ex-rebels in charge of the CAR since March.
Michel Djotodia, rebel leader-turned interim president, has largely lost control of his loose band of fighters, who ended up being disbanded.