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Africa

Gunmen in deadly ambush on civilians in CAR

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-01-20

Armed men killed 22 people in an ambush on a convoy of Muslim civilians fleeing inter-religious violence in the Central African Republic, the Save the Children charity said on Sunday, a day before lawmakers vote to choose a new president.

The charity's spokesman Mike McCusker said doctors described harrowing scenes after gunmen fired a rocket grenade to halt a convoy of fleeing refugees and then attacked them with firearms, machetes and clubs.

“Our doctor said there was blood everywhere, just pouring out of people like tap water,” McCusker told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Friday’s attack took place in the remote northwest of the country outside the town of Bouar and shows African and French peacekeepers are not reaching remote areas where violence goes unreported, said the British charity’s country director, Robert Lankenau.

Life remains precarious in the “still fraught and highly dangerous” situation, he said.

“An incident of this magnitude has only come to the forefront because of our internal contacts at the hospital,” McCusker said. “Maybe a lot of these stories are not being reported.”

He said nearly the entire population of Bouar of about 40,000 people are taking refuge in mosques and churches.

McCusker said local staff alerted them to Friday’s carnage. Four surgeons quickly set up an operating room where they worked to save the most critically injured, including children.

He said he had difficulty getting news in Bangui, the capital, from doctors at the scene. “The [cellphone] network is down, email isn’t working but somehow one of our doctors was able to make a Skype call,” he said.

Political transition

The Central African Republic has had a long history of dictatorships and coups. More than 1,000 people have died since December alone and nearly one million have been forced from their homes since rebel leader Michel Djotodia backed by his Seleka alliance of Muslim insurgents seized power last year.

Djotodia stepped down last week as international criticism mounted over his inability to halt killings that France and the UN have warned could soon rank as a genocide, with both Christian and Muslim fighters accused of committing atrocities.

A transitional national council will vote Monday to choose a new interim president from among 8 candidates.

Two of the eight are sons of former presidents: Sylvain Patasse, whose father was the country’s only democratically elected leader and governed from 1993 to 2003; and Desiré Zanga-Kolingba, whose father took power in a coup and ruled from 1981 to 1993. The current mayor of Bangui, Catherine Samba-Panza, is also in the running as is a second female candidate, Regina Konzi-Mongo.

There are persistent fears that whatever choice members of the transitional national council make could ignite further violence that has pitted rival tribes and Christians against Muslims. Some 50 percent of the five million people in the country are Christian and another 15 percent are Muslim, while the rest follow traditional animist religions, according to the CIA World Factbook.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

Date created : 2014-01-19

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