French, African troops try to halt CAR killings

Gunfire in the Central African Republic eased but attacks on civilians continued.

Rebels in the northern Central African Republic (CAR). Picture: AFP.

BANGUI - The Central Africa Republic's (CAR) shaky interim authorities on Saturday ordered all forces except foreign peacekeepers and the presidential guard off the streets of Bangui, where gunfire has eased but attacks on civilians have continued.

A senior UN aid official said French and African peacekeepers must push into neighbourhoods where "senseless" Muslim-Christian killings are rife, not just control the main roads of the capital.

Clashes resumed in Bossangoa, about 300 km north of Bangui, a day after an African peacekeeper was killed there, a witness there said.

The order for gunmen to return to barracks in Bangui, read on national radio, came as France dispatched 1,200 troops to the country, where at least 300 people have died in two days of violence in which rival militias clashed and then wholescale killings between Muslims and Christians began.

A reinforced French force stepped up patrols of the dilapidated, riverside capital and warplanes flew low overhead. But residents and rights groups said that killings had taken place on Friday down alleys away from the major arteries.

"Peacekeepers are patrolling the main roads. This is helping keep the looting down. But the atrocities are inside the neighbourhoods," said Amy Martin, head of the UN Officer for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

"If they can get into the neighbourhoods, we might start seeing a reduction in these crimes. The level of atrocities and the lack of humanity, the senseless killing defies imagination," Martin said.

A French defence ministry source said, "There were patrols all night, including some on foot. We are going everywhere - on the main roads but also to locations we have been directed to by humanitarian organizations and the civilian population."


French forces, which are reinforcing a stretched African peacekeeping mission, started deploying to the north and west of the country on Saturday to secure main roads and towns outside the capital, French army spokesman Gilles Jarron said.

"We have started to deploy outside of Bangui," Jarron said, adding that pre-positioned troops had crossed the border from Cameroon into the west of Central African Republic.

"We have also started the first missions from Bangui towards the north of the country," he said, adding that the French contingent had now reached its full strength of 1,200 troops.

The former French colony has been gripped by chaos since mainly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in March, leading to tit-for-tat violence with "anti-balaka" militia formed by the Christian majority in response to abuses by former rebels.

Michel Djotodia, leader of the Seleka ex-rebel alliance, is CAR's interim president, but he has struggled to control his loose band of fighters, many from neighbouring Chad and Sudan.

An attack on Bangui on Thursday by "anti-balaka" forces and gunmen loyal to ousted President Francois Bozize has ignited the worst violence in a year of crisis. It coincided with the UN Security Council authorising France to use deadly force to help African peacekeepers struggling to restore order.