Several people have died in gunfire in the capital of the Central African Republic, a senior aid worker said yesterday, ahead of a key UN vote due to authorize foreign troops to restore order.
“There are dead and wounded,” Sylvain Groulx, the head of Doctors Without Borders in the strife-torn country, told reporters, as his organization deployed a medical and surgical team to Bangui.
Heavy arms fire rocked several districts of the city from around 5:30am, while automatic weapons could be heard starting in the PK-12 area in the north, then spreading to other districts near the city center, reporters said.
The violence erupted as the UN Security Council prepared to vote on a resolution authorizing thousands of African and French troops to end anarchy in the former French colony, where massacres have led to warnings of mass sectarian clashes.
A senior officer in the African International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA) peacekeeping force said the fighting broke out after former rebels of Seleka (“alliance” in the Sango language) who ousted president Francois Bozize in March, saw their foes in “anti-balaka” (anti-machete) militias trying to infiltrate the Boy-Rabe district.
Groulx said people had been wounded both by bullets and machetes and he described some as “polytraumatized” in apparent reference to those injured as they fled their homes in panic.
However, he could give no casualty toll.
The shooting became markedly less intense as the morning wore on, but the sporadic explosions of shells could still be heard around 11:00am.
French troops based at the airport patrolled the streets as they habitually do. One such patrol, consisting of an armored vehicle and two lighter ones, drove through the city center, seen by a journalist.
Residents contacted in different parts of the city said that armed men were looting houses, without being able to give more details because they were holed up.
In the Boy-Rabe district, many terrified civilians sought refuge in a church.
FIRST MUSLIM PRESIDENT
Seleka forces who have been integrated into the army under Central African President Michel Djotodia, whom they brought to power as the first Muslim head of state, drove round the streets at high speed, brandishing their fists in a victory sign.
They came and went from a military camp near the presidential palace.
The anti-balaka militias first emerged in September in the northeast of the country in response to numerous atrocities by men of the Seleka, which Djotodia has officially dissolved.
Muslim and Christian communities that previously lived peaceably together have started fighting each other and tens of thousands of people have taken refuge in churches and mosques, fearing attacks, aid workers said.
Djotodia and his transitional government have so far failed to bring order to a deeply poor and unstable nation that has a history of coups, army mutinies and rebellions, where about 10 percent of the population of about 4.6 million have been displaced by violence.