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Fresh fighting in Central African Republic as presidential vote looms

A peacekeeping officer said that people “are in a desperate situation”.

Anti-balaka militiamen stand together as they talk to journalists
Anti-balaka militiamen stand together as they talk to journalists
Image: AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell

FRESH FIGHTING BROKE out in the strife-torn Central African Republic as the deadline closed Saturday for candidates seeking to be chosen by parliament as the new interim president.

“There is some violence nearly everywhere,” an officer with the MISCA African peacekeeping force told AFP, pointing to Bouar in the west near the border with Cameroon, the town of Sibut north of Bangui, and Boali to the northwest of the capital.

People are in a desperate situation and as we get closer to the election it is going to get worse.

At least three people were killed in Sibut, a resident told AFP by telephone as under-siege civilians called on the international forces for help.

“I’m putting out a cry of alarm,” said the resident who asked not to be named. “The (ex-rebel) Seleka movement is reigning like warlords in the city and there is no foreign force to protect us.”

A Catholic Church source said the parish premises came under attack in Sibut. “We tried to contact MISCA and (the French force) Sangaris for quick help, but so far there is no one,” he said.

MISCA told AFP that teams were on their way to the town of about 25,000 people, an important transport hub known for its market.

But the MISCA officer told AFP that the African force has been flooded with calls for help, all of which cannot be handled.

Soldiers

Some 4,400 African troops and 1,600 French soldiers have been deployed to the CAR to try to restore order in the impoverished country that plunged into chaos and sectarian violence following a March 2013 coup.

The mostly Muslim Seleka rebels installed their leader Michel Djotodia as president in the mainly Christian country. But he failed to control the rebels, many of whom went on killing, raping and pillaging, prompting Christians to form vigilante groups in response.

Djotodia resigned on January 11 under pressure from African leaders who feared the unrest could spread throughout the region.

Now the country’s transitional parliament is expected to vote on Monday for a new interim president. With the deadline for filing candidacies passed, the list of contenders is to be published on Sunday.

There are reportedly 24 candidates, including Bangui mayor Catherine Samba Panza and the sons of former presidents Ange-Felix Patasse and Andre Kolingba.

France’s Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Saturday that French forces would be especially “vigilant” as the presidential vote takes place.

Muslims seek refuge in church

Despite the presence of peacekeeping forces in the former French colony, the violence has not let up and the United Nations warned on Thursday that bloodshed in the country could turn into genocide.

Fighting has flared beyond Bangui with attacks on churches reported in the western town of Bossemptele near the border with Cameroon, according to the religious official in Bangui.

In Boali, about 90 kilometres northwest of Bangui, the situation remains tense despite an operation launched Friday by the French forces on the road leading from the capital to Cameroon border, a vital link for supplies of food and goods.

A local priest Boris Wiligale said by phone that hundreds of Muslim nomads have taken refuge in his church.

The priest said French forces had disarmed the Muslim ex-Seleka rebels in the town but that Christian militias have seized the opportunity to come out of the bush.

And in Bangui the UN children’s agency UNICEF said today that 23 children aged 14 to 17, including six girls, who had been recruited by armed groups have been handed over to child protection services.

France is now seeking support from the European Union in the CAR, Le Drian said.

EU foreign ministers meeting Monday in Brussels are expected to give the green light to sending 500 European soldiers to help secure Bangui’s airport.

- © AFP, 2014

Read: Sectarian violence breaks out in Central African Republic>

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