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16 dead as fighting strikes Central African Republic capital

May 1, 2018

BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — A priest was among at least 16 people killed Tuesday as new sectarian violence targeted a church, mosques and health facilities in Central African Republic’s capital, an aid group, hospital and the United Nations said.

Medecins Sans Frontieres, which reported six dead, called for calm after some Bangui residents threatened the SICA hospital, where some of the more than 50 people shot and wounded were being treated.

Medical workers have a duty to treat people “regardless of their background, religious or political affiliations,” Anne-Marie Boyeldieu, MSF’s head of mission in Central African Republic, said.

Anger has been high among some in the capital since U.N. peacekeeping mission and local security forces launched a joint operation in the largely Muslim neighborhood of PK5 in early April to arrest members of armed criminal groups after their leaders refused to disarm. The dead bodies of 17 civilians were laid in front of the U.N. peacekeeping offices shortly afterward.

Tuesday’s violence erupted in the PK5 and Fatima neighborhoods, MSF said.

Armed groups are suspected of carrying out the attacks, but citizens fed up with violence are making their anger known in other ways. Residents brought the bodies of the priest and some of the other people killed to the presidential Renaissance Palace. Members of the Presidential Guard dispersed the crowd by firing shots in the air.

In the Lakwanga district, a group of young people ransacked a mosque that had just been rehabilitated as part of a social cohesion project.

At least 10 bodies were brought to the community hospital morgue Tuesday, the head of the facility said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak to the press.

The Catholic St. Joseph Movement, an action group, confirmed that there were 10 dead in addition to the six reported by MSF.

The U.N.’s humanitarian coordinator for Central African Republic, Najat Rochdi, said the people killed included Abbot Albert Tougoumale-Baba, a fervent defender of a non-aggression accord that allowed Muslims to hold burial ceremonies in accordance with their religions.

Tougoumale-Baba’s church in Fatima was attacked, Rochdi said, along with other places of worship, including mosques.

“Once again it is the civilian population, especially women and children, who pay the price of violence,” Rochdi said, calling on women to raise their voices against the recruiting of youth as fighters.

David Brownstein, chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Bangui, condemned the killings as a “cowardly and violent act.” He called for “calm and the cessation of revenge” attacks, which he said would only perpetuate the cycle of violence.

Bangui Mayor Emile Gros Raymond Nakombo appealed to communities to recognize such violence “is the work of those who do not want peace to return to the country.”

Deeply impoverished Central African Republican has faced deadly interreligious and intercommunal fighting since 2013, when predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in Bangui. Mostly Christian anti-Balaka militias fought back, resulting in thousands of people killed and hundreds of thousands displaced.

A period of relative peace followed in late 2015 and 2016, but violence has intensified and spread in the past year.

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Petesch reported from Dakar, Senegal.

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