Fresh fighting has broken out in the strife-torn Central African Republic (CAR) as the country prepares for the announcement of the list of candidates seeking to become the new interim president.
As clashes raged on Saturday, Save the Children said a grenade attack the day before on a truck convoy carrying Muslims fleeing to the north-west of the country had killed 23 people, including three children.
“It is a sign of the still fraught and highly dangerous situation in the Central African Republic that children and their families have been attacked and killed while trying to evacuate to safety,” said Robert Lankenau from the charity.
“There is some violence nearly everywhere,” an officer with the MISCA African peacekeeping force told the AFP news agency, pointing to Bouar in the west near the border with Cameroon, the town of Sibut north of Bangui, and Boali to the northwest of the capital.
“People are in a desperate situation and as we get closer to the election it is going to get worse,” added the officer, who requested anonymity.
The country’s transitional parliament is expected to vote on Monday for a new interim president. With the deadline for filing candidacies passed, the list of contenders is to be published on Sunday.
Michel Djotodia, who was installed by the Seleka as the first Muslim president in the country, resigned on January 11 under pressure from African leaders after he failed to stem the violence.
Sectarian violence has gripped the landlocked country since a March 2013 coup launched by the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels.
Djotodia’s administration was ultimately undermined by his supporters’ continued attacks on civilians, which spurred retaliatory attacks by Christian fighters that led to unprecedented religious violence.
The UN has warned that the bloodshed could turn into genocide.
Some 4,400 African troops and 1,600 French soldiers have been deployed to try to restore order in the country, but both missions have been calling for back up.
Ahead of an EU meeting on Monday, expected to approve the deployment of 500 European soldiers to help secure Bangui’s airport, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Europe could not leave France alone in its bid to restore order in the country.
France’s Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Saturday that French forces would be “extremely vigilant” as the presidential vote takes place.
Despite the presence of peacekeepers, fighting has flared beyond Bangui with attacks on churches reported in the western town of Bossemptele near the border with Cameroon, according to the religious official in Bangui.