A group of young men in the Central African Republic have plundered a mosque in the capital and barricaded streets with burning tyres in protest at a deadly attack on a Catholic church.
The destruction of one of the last mosques in the city on Thursday appeared to be carried out in retaliation after armed men threw grenades and opened fire on a crowd in the Notre Dame de Fatima church, killing at least 11 people.
There were no casualties at the mosque as it was empty.
The country has been gripped by ethnic and religious violence for a year since Seleka rebels, who are mostly Muslim, seized power. The Seleka left power in January under international pressure and since then Christian “anti-balaka” militias have launched a series of attacks on Muslims.
The unrest has largely driven Muslims from the capital and other surrounding areas to the north and neighbouring countries, effectively partitioning the Central African Republic, whose northeast is controlled mainly by Muslim rebel forces.
Thousands have been killed and about a million people displaced because of the conflict. More than 2.5 million people need humanitarian aid, a figure that represents more than half the population.
African and European peacekeepers patrol the country, but have failed to stop the violence.
Sebastien Wenezoui, a leader of the anti-Balaka militia, accused international forces of abandoning the church to its attackers and singled out Burundian soldiers among the African peacekeeping force, called MISCA, as well as French soldiers who he said could have reacted faster to the initial onslaught.
“It’s very sad. What hurts us most is that France is here to protect the civilian population. MISCA is there to protect the population but when we called the Burundians they didn’t come,” he told the Reuters news agency.
His comments were echoed by Catholic priest at the church, Jonas Bekas, who said peacekeepers were slow to respond to frantic calls he and other priests made from inside the church to say they were under attack.