Central African Republic court jails first group of ex-rebels

BANGUI Thu Sep 12, 2013 9:50am EDT

BANGUI (Reuters) - A court in Central African Republic has sentenced 17 Seleka fighters to eight years in prison for theft, rape and pillage, the first ex-rebels to be punished for a wave of violence that has gripped the country since they seized power.

Five other fighters from the rebel alliance were due to be tried but had already escaped amid the chaos that has reigned since the gunmen swept down from the north and ousted former President Francois Bozize in March.

Announcing the sentencing on Wednesday, Abel Daouda, president of the criminal court that handled the case, also fined each of the men 200,000 CFA francs ($410).

On officially becoming president last month, rebel leader Michel Djotodia pledged to crack down on impunity.

He sacked the head of the armed forces on Tuesday after days of fighting between his forces and gunmen still loyal to Bozize killed 100 people.

Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said it treated women and children amongst the people who had been injured by machetes and gunshots in the fighting.

"Some were apparently summarily executed. Houses were burned down as well. All of this leaves MSF deeply concerned that all parties to the fighting will continue to target civilians and carry out more atrocities against them," the group said.

Former colonial power France is pushing for a United Nations Security Council resolution to strengthen regional peace efforts, currently being led by the African Union.

($1 = 493.1450 CFA francs)

(Reporting by Paul-Marin Ngoupana; Additional reporting and writing by David Lewis; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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