Attackers kill at least 11 people in a gun and grenade attack on a church in the Central African Republic, as aid workers accuse the international community of turning a blind eye to ethnic cleansing.
Around 5,000 displaced people were reported to have been sheltering in the Our Lady Fatima church compound, as violence between local Muslims and anti-Balaka Christian militia raged on the streets outside.
The toll will probably be higher because there are many wounded. Priest Jonas Bekas
Federique Nakombo, the general secretary of the Episcopal commission for peace and justice, said armed men threw grenades into the church compound and opened fire on the crowd. Paul Emile Nzale, a priest, was among those killed.
Around ten bodies were removed from the church after the attack, a Reuters witness said. Several others were reported to be injured. A local resident said that most people in the church were able to escape, and that part of the building caught fire.
Another priest, Jonas Bekas said: “The toll will probably be higher because there are many wounded.”
Muslim Seleka militias were blamed for the attack, and Mr Bekas said the death toll would have been much higher if the Christian anti-Balaka had not come to the rescue.
Muslim and Christian militias have been in increasingly violent conflict in the Central African Republic since last year. First the Muslim Seleka were accused of gross violence, and then the tide appeared to turn in the New Year. Many Muslims have been driven from their homes, and even the country, by anti-Balaka Christian militia.
Writing from the town of Carnot, where hundreds of Muslim refugees are sheltering in a Christian church, Muriel Masse of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said “We are witnessing a true ‘cleansing’ that is occuring silently, without international or Central African objection, in a country where the number of international armed troops deployed does not correspond to its size and where too many areas remain inaccessible and in a state of chaos.”
A United Nations report released two months ago said: “Violence in the capital reached gruesome levels of cruelty including public mutilation of corpses, dismemberment and beheading with total impunity.”
At least 6,000 children are thought to have been recruited into the ranks of the Seleka militias and many thousands have fled the country.