Tension are running high in the Central African Republic after the overnight lynching of a Seleka colonel in Bengui.
The attack came after three other Seleka fighters were killed by French army patrols on Friday, when they were found with weapons at an African Union checkpoint.
The three men were later found to have been from the presidential guard, angering Seleka members who then called for the withdrawal of the 1,600 French troops deployed under a United Nations mandate to help return order to the country.
On Sunday, several thousand supporters of the Central African Republic’s former rebel group Seleka protested against French troops conducting a disarmament operation.
The demonstration in the capital Bangui marked the most significant show of hostility towards France since it deployed troops on December 5 to end the chaos that followed Seleka’s coup in March.
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The Seleka barricaded the road and said “no” to the French army, a resident of the conflict areas in Bengui told Reuters news agency, after the Seleka colonel was lynched.
“At this moment in time the French army is 300m from the Seleka coalition and they haven’t done anything yet,” he said.
“We are afraid and we don’t know what’s going on at the moment.”
Seleka rebels, however, blamed the lynching of the Seleka rebel on the Christian fighters, known as anti-Balaka.
But Patrick Ambouaden, a PK12 resident told Reuters news agency on Sunday: “It’s not the anti-Balaka, it’s the Seleka who massacred people, they massacred everyone, even women, women and children.
“The Seleka have committed killings everywhere up to even Lando and PK13. But we haven’t seen the anti-Balaka.”
MISCA, the African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic, said it had disarmed several thousand Seleka fighters and returned them to barracks.
Jean-Yves Le Drian, France’s defence minister, told TV5 Monde on Friday that French forces were disarming both sides, anti-balaka and Seleka, indiscriminately.
Under the terms of a UN resolution passed on December 5, France hopes to hand over responsibility for security to the MISCA force in six months. The African Union force is due to reach 6,000 troops by the end of January.
The seizure of power by Seleka rebels in March unleashed a wave of looting, rapes and massacres by the mainly-Muslim fighters, sparking reprisals by Christian fighters known as anti-balaka.
More than 700,000 people have been displaced by the conflict, leading some to fear atrocities on the scale of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
A semblance of calm had returned to the ramshackle riverside capital in recent days but fighting raged for several hours in the Muslim neighbourhoods of PK 5 and Fatima early on Friday following an assault by Christian fighters, Reuters reported.
“They tried to attack other parts of the city and even made an attempt to reach the centre of the town,” Guy-Simplice Kodegue, a spokesman for the interim government, told the news agency.
It was not immediately clear who started the fighting, or how many people were injured overnight.