BANGUI – A weekend of violence and looting in the Central African capital has left at least 10 people dead, witnesses and a humanitarian official told AFP on Sunday, including two more gruesome lynchings of minority Muslims.
Fighting broke out Saturday evening between Christian vigilantes and Muslims in the west of Bangui where many buildings were torched, they said.
A resident told AFP that the Muslim killer of a Christian woman was lynched and killed before his body was burned and deposited in front of the local town hall, where it could be seen early Sunday.
A suspected Christian militiaman killed another Muslim civilian, and was about to burn the body when Rwandan soldiers of the African peacekeeping force MISCA shot him dead, a witness who gave his name as Innocent told AFP.
The shooting prompted an angry crowd to shout slogans against the Rwandan soldiers, whom they mistakenly believed to be Muslim. “Death to the Rwandans,” one shouted, according to Innocent.
Five other people were killed in unclear circumstances, the witnesses said.
Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch confirmed the witness reports and said another Muslim was lynched early Sunday near Bangui’s central market.
The former French colony has been engulfed in violence for nearly a year since the Seleka rebel group installed Michel Djotodia as the country’s first Muslim president in a coup in March 2013.
The following months saw rogue Seleka fighters unleash a wave of atrocities against the Christian majority, prompting the emergence of vigilante groups.
The violence has raged unabated even after Djotodia stepped aside and the parliament appointed interim President Catherine Samba Panza last month, and Muslims have been fleeing the violence in their thousands.
A man was lynched Friday after he fell off a lorry in a convoy of terrified Muslims fleeing Bangui. Residents hacked him to death and dumped his body on the roadside.
‘The French won’t fire at us’
Meanwhile looting was rampant in the capital, where young people could be seen removing furniture and equipment from buildings and shops — some still smouldering from fires set on Saturday — despite the heavy presence of French and African peacekeepers as a French helicopter gunship circled above.
The peacekeepers went from door to door to try to rout out the looters, who simply moved on to other targets, pushing their carts and wheelbarrows between French armoured cars.
“The French won’t fire at us,” one young looter said, laughing.
The mayhem comes as French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was set to begin an African tour on Sunday in the Chadian capital N’Djamena mainly focused on the Central African conflict.
Chad, the impoverished country’s neighbour to the north, has 850 troops in MISCA.
Drian is to meet with Chad’s President Idriss Deby, who has a powerful influence over events in the country, before heading to Congo, whose President Denis Sassou Nguesso is a mediator in the conflict.
On Wednesday Le Drian will begin his third visit since the French peacekeeping operation codenamed Sangaris was launched in early December.
Muslim Central Africans and foreigners have been fleeing Bangui for several months to escape killings, looting and harassment by the armed Christian militias.
The International Criminal Court said Friday it had opened an initial probe into war crimes in the Central African Republic.
Atrocities, the fear of attack and a lack of food have displaced almost a quarter of the country’s population of about 4.6 million, while the United Nations and relief agencies estimate that at least two million people need humanitarian assistance.