Bambari (Central African Republic) – No fewer than three people were killed in clashes between fighters in the Central African Republic , a UN official said.
The development which also saw scores injured comes amid intense violence in the country, the official said, under condition of anonymity.
The latest violence centered in and around the town of Bambari, much of it controlled for the last year by the Union for Peace in Central Africa (UPC), a faction of the former Seleka rebel alliance.
Central African Republic was plunged into sectarian violence when the mostly Muslim rebel group briefly seized power in the predominantly Christian country in early 2013, prompting a wave of reprisals by the anti-balaka militia.
The dead were members of the UPC, its spokesman told newsmen.
Witnesses said their deaths triggered more widespread violence in Bambari with gunmen opening fire in the town, burning houses and sending hundreds of people running for cover.[pro_ad_display_adzone id=”70560″]
They said anti-balaka forces descended into Bambari on foot, opening fire as UPC fighters roamed the streets on motorbikes while UN peacekeepers attempted to restore calm.
Successive waves of fighting have forced at least 360,000 people from their homes across Central African Republic with up to 40,000 displaced in Bambari alone, according to UN figures.
Many in Bambari have found temporary shelter near churches, disused factories or near the bases of the UN peacekeeping force.
“This is the worst violence we have seen in Bambari since the end of September,’’ said Nicolas Peissel, Field Coordinator for Medical Charity Médecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in Ouaka province, where Bambari is situated.
The sound of gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades reverberated around the town, whose buildings, many of them destroyed by recent clashes, lie among overgrown plants and weeds.
Earlier in the day, dozens of Muslims had marched through Bambari, protesting against the proposed rearmament of the country’s fractured armed forces which many distrust.
“It is in heated moments like this when people have least access to medical support because they feel unsafe to seek help,’’ said Peissel, whose team was assisting the wounded in Bambari’s only functioning hospital.
“We have no idea where different rival groups will place themselves in the coming days meaning access to the hospital is not assured for those who need it most,’’ Peissel added.
In October, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it was deeply concerned by worsening violence in the Central African Republic.
It said since the end of September dozens of people had been killed and hundreds more wounded in the capital Bangui.
“Several hundred sick children and pregnant women have been unable to reach clinics or maternity hospitals.
“Thousands of families are destitute, their homes having been burnt down and their livelihoods destroyed, they are living in a constant state of fear,’’ ICRC said in a statement.
ICRC urged all parties to the conflict to spare civilians, their schools, houses and medical facilities. (Reuters/NAN)