BANGUI (Reuters) - A group of soldiers in Central African Republic’s capital lynched a man on Wednesday whom they suspected of having been a rebel, minutes after hearing the new president promise to restore security at a ceremony to reinstate the divided country’s armed forces.
Meanwhile Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned that rebels who have fled the capital Bangui in recent weeks are regrouping in the country’s northwest where they have launched renewed attacks against civilians.
A Reuters witness saw about 20 uniformed soldiers accuse a member of the crowd at a training center in the capital Bangui of having belonged to Seleka, the mostly Muslim rebel group that seized power in a coup last March.
They then stabbed him repeatedly until he was dead. A soldier stamped on the lifeless body, which was then dragged through the streets, dismembered and set alight as residents looked on and took photographs.
Ten minutes earlier, about 20 meters (yards) away, the new interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza, had addressed the crowd of at least 1,000 soldiers at a ceremony meant to re-introduce the army to the nation after it effectively disappeared from view during Seleka’s rule.
“Within a month, I would like to fully secure the greater part of the country, and I aim to stick to my word,” she said.
Samba-Panza, appointed to lead the country to elections next February two weeks ago after coup leader Michel Djotodia stepped down under intense international pressure, made clear it would take time to restore order.
“At a certain point, everyone will be held responsible for their acts. I am warning troublemakers who continue to sow disorder in the country,” she said.
Seleka’s 10-month occupation of cities and towns across the country has been marked by rampant looting, torture and murder.
The deep resentment they spawned among the Christian majority led to the formation of Christian “anti-balaka” militias, meaning “anti-machete” in the local Sango language, further fanning the flames of inter-religious bloodshed.
About 1 million people, a quarter of the former French colony’s population, have fled their homes. And the presence of 1,600 French soldiers and 5,000 African troops has so far failed to stop the tit-for-tat violence, which the United Nations says has already killed more than 2,000 people.
At least 22 people, including 16 women, were killed on Wednesday when Seleka fighters attacked Nzakone, in northwestern Central African Republic, according to a resident of the village contacted by Reuters.
“We’re calling for the new government to send (African and French) soldiers to protect us and our towns, otherwise we’ll be wiped out,” said Elie Chikolo, adding that another 18 people were killed in attacks on nearby villages last week.
Most Seleka fighters withdrew from Bangui after Samba-Panza’s inauguration last month, but Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday that the rebels were regrouping.
The rights group accused Chadian peacekeepers of facilitating the movements of Seleka leaders responsible for a new wave of atrocities.
“If the African Union is truly going to protect civilians in the Central African Republic, it needs to rein in the rogue activities of the Chadian peacekeeping troops,” said Peter Bouckaert, HRW’s emergencies director.
Many of Seleka’s fighters come from Chad and Sudan, but Chadian officials deny supporting the rebels.
Chadian military officials said on Wednesday they had detained and disarmed 262 fleeing Seleka fighters that had entered Chad, seizing more than 300 weapons, ammunition and a dozen vehicles.
“We didn’t want to give our weapons to the French, so we crossed over to give them to the Chadians,” Seleka’s Colonel Ahmat Abdelkérim Bahar told a Reuters journalist in the town of Doba.
Additional reporting by Madjiasra Nako in Doba; Writing by Emma Farge and Joe Bavier; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Sonya Hepinstall and Eric Walsh