FIGHTING SWEPT THROUGH the capital of Central African Republic today, leaving nearly one hundred people dead and posing the biggest threat yet to the country’s new government.
The UN Security Council authorised an intervention force to prevent a bloodbath between Christians and Muslims.
Speaking from the Elysee Palace in Paris, French President Francois Hollande promised that the 600 hundred troops in the country will be doubled “within a few days, even a few hours”. He said the Central African Republic was “calling us for help,” and he “decided to act immediately.”
The country’s prime minister welcomed the intervention while in Paris for a summit of dozens of African leaders hosted by Hollande.
Witnesses and aid workers say at least 98 people are dead in Bangui after a day of clashes between the Muslim armed fighters who rule the country and a Christian militia who opposes them.
Shrouded bodies lay in a mosque in Bangui, Central African Republic today. (AP Photo)
An Associated Press journalist counted 48 bodies at a mosque in a northern neighborhood today. Separately, Doctors Without Borders confirmed at least 50 people were dead at hospitals they are running.
The armed Christian fighters attacked the capital before dawn, in the most serious violence to hit Bangui since a March coup brought the Seleka rebel coalition to power. The former rebels are accused of committing scores of human rights abuses. The Christian militias who support the deposed president are implicated in massacres on Muslim communities.
In Bangui, people scurried indoors, some seeking sanctuary in a church. Inside a Bangui hospital, dozens of people with gunshot wounds lay on the floor or on wooden benches, waiting for hours to see a physician. Underscoring the chaos, even the president’s and prime minister’s homes were looted.
Seleka soldiers race through Bangui, Central African Republic. (AP Photo)
The UN Security Council unanimously authorised increased military action by France and African troops aimed at restoring security and protecting civilians in the volatile former French colony.
The Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye told The Associated Press that he sees France’s intervention as “very positively” and that he had wanted a “firm reaction from France”. He called for fast action “to put an end to this violence and these atrocities”.
Tiangaye confirmed his house had been looted, describing the attackers as a group of Seleka who arrived in three pickup trucks.
“It’s true, my house was attacked and pillaged,” he said, adding that his family was evacuated beforehand and were safe.
The UN Security Council resolution authorises the deployment of an African Union-led force to Central African Republic for a year to protect civilians and restore security and public order. The AU force is replacing a regional peacekeeping mission whose presence has been mainly limited to the capital and a few northern cities.
The UN resolution also authorises French forces, for a temporary period, “to take all necessary measures” to support the AU-led force known as MISCA, whose troop numbers are expected to rise from about 2,500 to 3,500.