BANGUI Armed men killed at least 12 civilians and wounded 30, including children, northwest of the Central African Republic capital, United Nations officials said on Tuesday ahead of a Security Council move to end anarchy in the country.
The Council is to vote on Thursday on dispatching French reinforcements to restore order in Central African Republic, which has slipped into chaos since mainly Muslim rebels seized power, leading to tit-for-tat sectarian violence.
BINUCA, as the United Nations office in Bangui is known, said unidentified armed men had targeted Boali, about 95 km (60 miles) from the capital at the weekend.
The U.N. office did not give details on who was responsible but it warned of tensions between communities leading to "a climate of increasing violence" in the impoverished landlocked country, which is majority Christian.
Amy Martin, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Bangui, said the attack occurred on Monday and that Christian militias known as "anti-balaka" appeared to have targeted Peul herders, who are mostly Muslim.
Martin said the incident was one of a number in recent days, including fighting on Tuesday just 45 km north of Bangui.
"It looks much more organized just than community defense groups," she said, referring to the mainly Christian militia that have formed to counter abuses by the former rebels, who are known as Seleka.
Prospere Ndouba, an adviser to Michel Djotodia, the rebel chief who is now serving as interim president, said anti-Seleka youth backed by supporters of ousted president Francois Bozize were responsible for the Boali attack.
The International Crisis Group think-tank said it expected to see violent clashes spreading to the capital Bangui.
"The combination of religious tensions and powerless transitional authorities is the perfect recipe for further deadly clashes between local populations and the various Seleka factions, especially in Bangui," the ICG said in a statement.
Debate on foreign intervention in the mineral-rich country, welcomed by its new president, has intensified in recent weeks.
France has begun dispatching reinforcements to its former colony, where it will have around 1,000 troops to support an African force so far struggling to contain the fighting. The defense ministry said there are now 600 French troops in Bangui and that 350 new troops have arrived in neighboring Cameroon.
"They (French troops) are coming to help us re-establish stability, to re-establish peace, to bring law and order," Djotodia said in an interview with Reuters last week.
A meeting on the Central African Republic is scheduled to take place between 10 heads of states, African Union chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon on the sidelines of a France-Africa summit this week, a French presidential source said on Tuesday.
"It will enable an exchange of views on what needs to be done to put into motion the U.N. resolution," the source said.
Amnesty International has urged the U.N. to assemble a peacekeeping force to prevent further civilian deaths.
Around 460,000 people, a tenth of the population, have fled the sectarian violence since the Seleka rebel coalition, a loose alliance of warlords accused of human rights violations, seized power in March.
Central African Republic is rich in gold, diamonds and uranium but decades of instability and spillover from conflicts in its larger neighbors have kept it mired in crises.
(Reporting by Ange Aboa and David Lewis and John Irish; Editing by Emma Farge and Mark Heinrich)