The death toll in clashes between gunmen loyal to former Central African Republic (CAR) president Francois Bozize and the ex-rebels who ousted him rose to at least 73 following fighting on Monday, residents, officials and a regional peacekeeping force said.
A government spokesman accused fighters loyal to Bozize of trying to retake power. The latest clashes took place around Bossangoa, in Bozize’s home region, about 300km north of the capital, Bangui.
Residents in Bouca said fighting erupted after about 30 armed Bozize supporters to the attacked the town and a former rebel camp.
“I saw seven dead, including four traders. Shops and houses were torched,” said Josue Mbetigaza, a resident who fled the town after the fighting started.
He said he later heard that at least a dozen people were killed in the fighting.
John Nariri, a driver with Medecines Sans Fronteirs in Bouca, said by telephone that the medical and humanitarian aid organization had recorded 18 killed and 31 injured.
The fighting came after a UN warning that the country was on the brink of collapse. The former French colony has slipped into chaos since northern rebels captured Bangui in March, overrunning South African troops protecting Bozize.
“The defense forces lost five men, and there have been more than 50 killed among the assailants and civilians [during fighting on Saturday and Sunday],” said Guy Simplice Kodegue, a spokesman for CAR President Michel Djotodia, who was swept to power by the Seleka rebels.
A commander in the Multinational Force of Central Africa said at least 60 people had been killed during the weekend fighting and the situation was chaotic.
The former rebels have been accused by residents, UN officials and non-governmental organizations of a wave of killings and abuses that Djotodia has struggled to control.
“Houses were burnt, people were burnt alive, including children, women and old people, who had nothing to do with the fighting. It is really disgusting,” Kodegue said.
Bozize, who fled to Cameroon, told French media in Paris last month that he still had ambitions of returning to power.
The peacekeeping force confirmed pro-Bozize gunmen were involved in the fighting, but said little other information was available.
CAR government spokesman Crepin Mboli-Goumba said Bozize coordinated the attacks over the weekend and appealed for international intervention to restore order.
“It is an attempt by Bozize and his supporters to take power,” Mboli-Goumba said. “Six towns have been taken. This shows Seleka does not control the situation, so we call on the international community to mobilize [peacekeepers] so they can intervene.”