Militia attack in Central African Republic kills 27: U.N.

BANGUI Fri Dec 13, 2013 11:00am EST

Internally displaced people (IDP) take shelter inside a Catholic church in Bangui December 11, 2013. Picture taken December 11, 2013. REUTERS/Sam Phelps

Internally displaced people (IDP) take shelter inside a Catholic church in Bangui December 11, 2013. Picture taken December 11, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Sam Phelps

BANGUI (Reuters) - A militia group has killed 27 Muslims in a village in the Central African Republic, the United Nations said on Friday, in an attack underscoring the difficulties faced by French troops in stabilizing their former colony.

The Christian militia, known as anti-Balaka, killed the Muslims on Thursday in Bohong, a village about 75 km (47 miles) from the far western town of Bouar, the U.N. Human Rights office said.

"The situation is also tense in several towns, including Bouca, Bossangoa and Bozoum, where a vicious cycle of attacks and reprisals continues," it said in an email.

Mostly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in March, ousting President Francois Bozize. They conducted a string of abuses, prompting the creation of Christian defense groups, which in turn deepened inter-religious conflict.

Christian militia and gunmen loyal to Bozize attacked the capital last week, triggering fresh killings and reprisals. More than 500 people died and 100,000 were displaced from their homes in the capital Bangui alone.

French troops, who now number 1,600 in the country, have restored some order to Bangui and begun disarming gunmen as well as moving out to other towns. But the killings in Bohong point to the scale of the task in a country the size of France.

"We condemn any attack on places of worship and on religious freedom, and urge all communities to exercise restraint," the U.N. Human Rights office said in a briefing note.

The African country is rich in diamonds, gold and uranium but has seen little stability in five decades. France has intervened more since independence in 1960 than in any of its former colonies.

BANGUI CLASHES

Several people died in clashes in the Miskine neighborhood of northwest Bangui on Thursday night and Friday morning, according to witnesses, a sign that the capital itself remains unstable.

The fighting started when ethnic Christians on Thursday looted the motor-bike shop of a man linked to the Seleka and escalated into reprisal killings. French troops, backed by a helicopter, restored calm on Friday, they said.

"The tension is still high in the neighborhood despite the presence of the French," said Chancella Cazalima, a student.

Residents in Miskine said it was a Seleka stronghold and urged the French army and African peacekeepers to step up their intelligence operations in a bid to bring calm.

There was no immediate comment from the French army.

Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye confirmed on Friday he would not stand at the next elections in accordance with a political accord signed in January.

"We will set up, in the next few days, the national transition authority. This structure, which is independent, is empowered to prepare and organize elections," he said in an interview on France 24.

France wants elections brought forward to next year, putting an end to the interim period originally scheduled to run into 2015.

(This version of the story corrects the source of quote in paragraph 7.)

(Additional reporting by Nicholas Vincour in Paris and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg; Editing by Emma Farge and Alister Doyle)

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