More than 500 people have been killed over the past week in sectarian fighting in the Central African Republic (CAR), aid officials said on Tuesday, as France reported that gunmen killed two of its soldiers who were part of the intervention to disarm thousands of rebels accused of attacking civilians.
Aid workers have collected 461 bodies across Bangui, the capital, since Thursday last week, said Antoine Mbao Bogo of the local Red Cross. However, that figure does not include the scores of Muslim victims whose bodies were brought to mosques for burial.
The government of the predominantly Christian country was overthrown in March by Muslim rebels from the country’s north. While the rebels claimed no religious motive for seizing power, months of resentment and hostility erupted last week in a wave of violence.
The French deaths came as French President Francois Hollande arrived for a visit to his nation’s former colony, heading into the tumultuous capital after attending a memorial for former South African president Nelson Mandela.
“The mission is dangerous. We know it,” Hollande told troops in a huge airport hangar after paying respects at the coffins of the two young soldiers. “But it is necessary in order to avoid carnage.”
CAR President Michel Djotodia condemned the attack on the French forces and blamed former leader Francois Bozize, whom he ousted from power in March, for creating the turmoil in Bangui.