BANGUI: Rebel fighters and armed Muslims killed “many” people in an attack on a church compound in the Central African Republic on Monday where thousands of civilians had taken refuge, Catholic Church officials said.
The attack in Bambari, 380 km (236 miles) northwest of the capital Bangui, came just a day before French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was due to visit the town, where a grenade attack injured seven French soldiers last week.
Church officials said fighters from the Seleka rebel movement and armed civilians from the town’s Muslim community entered St. Joseph’s Cathedral around 3 pm (1400 GMT) “We don’t have the exact death toll yet, but many people have been killed. As I’m speaking to you, they are still there,” Rev. Jesus Martial Dembele, vicar general for the archdiocese of Bangui, told Reuters.
“(The French force) Sangaris are near the site but they didn’t intervene,” he said. Between 4,000 and 6,000 mainly Christian civilians live at the cathedral, church officials said. Rev. Firmin Gbagoua, a priest at the cathedral, said the attackers believed Christian militia fighters, known as anti-balaka or anti-machete, were based inside. “They came in. They are killing people,” a nun inside the compound told Reuters during the attack before quickly hanging up the phone. Further attempts to reach her were unsuccessful. Bambari is home to Seleka’s military headquarters. A Seleka official told Reuters the group had been attacked by anti-balaka fighters in a majority Muslim neighbourhood. One Muslim civilian was killed in the clash, he said.
“All we did was retaliate,” said Ahmat Negad, one of the group’s spokesmen in Bambari. A resident of Bambari said a French military helicopter was flying over the town by late afternoon, however a spokesman for France’s defence ministry said he was not aware of the incident.
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