BANGUI (Reuters) - At least six people were killed and hundreds forced to flee their homes in two days of violence involving the “anti-balaka” militia in the capital of Central African Republic, officials said on Wednesday.
The violence erupted late on Tuesday in a district of Bangui near the banks of the Oubangi river, close to President Catherine Samba Panza’s residence, as armed men ransacked homes.
Then on Wednesday, there were clashes pitting anti-balaka fighters against soldiers from the country’s newly deployed U.N. mission. Three militia members were killed and four peacekeepers wounded, officials said.
Samba Panza’s transitional government said on Tuesday that the increase in violence in Bangui, in which more than a dozen people have been killed, was part of a plot to destabilize her administration.
The country was plunged into chaos when the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the majority Christian country in March 2013, toppling President Francois Bozize.
Seleka’s rule was marred by abuses that prompted a backlash from the mostly Christian and animist anti-balaka militia. Seleka leader Michel Djotodia bowed to international pressure and went into exile in January.
“The anti-balaka set fire to 22 houses. Three people were killed, including two burned alive in their homes,” said Joseph Tagbale, mayor of the district.
Tagbale said that Rwandan peacekeepers, part of a U.N. mission that started last month, were deployed nearby to guard Samba Panza’s home but would not venture off the main road into residential areas to protect civilians.
Myriam Dessables, a spokeswoman for the U.N. mission known as MINUSCA, rejected the accusation that the peacekeepers failed to step in.
“It’s absolutely false. The Rwandan soldiers intervened to stop the violence,” she said.
Hundreds of people sought sanctuary in St. Paul’s Catholic church, clerics there said.
“They are afraid of the anti-balaka who have entered their neighborhoods,” Reverend Jesus Martial Dembele, vicar general of the archdiocese of Bangui, said. “They killed people and burned down homes.”
Wednesday’s clashes broke out on the main road to the city’s airport when peacekeepers attempted to remove an anti-balaka barricade.
In the face of anti-balaka revenge attacks, tens of thousands of Muslims have fled to a northern enclave still controlled by Seleka, effectively splitting the country in two along religious lines. Samba Panza now has the task of guiding the country to elections expected toward the end of 2015.
France has deployed troops to its former colony and an African peacekeeping force was beefed up and transformed into a U.N. mission to stem the sectarian violence.
Representatives of the officially disbanded Seleka rebels met in the northern town of Bria on Wednesday for two days of talks meant to heal a rift between the group’s factions, some of which want independence for their northern enclave.
Also on Wednesday, Prime Minister Mahamat Kamoun was called to testify before the transitional legislature after the government was accused by the opposition of embezzling a quarter of a $10 million donation from Angola.
The government said the money was used to appease rival factions and promote peace. Its supporters protested outside the building as questioning took place.
Reporting by Crispin Dembassa-Kette; Writing by Daniel Flynn and Joe Bavier; Editing by Louise Ireland and Grant McCool