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French troops in firefight in CAR capital Bangui

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French forces returned fire when they came under attack in Bangui, a MISCA official said Friday, after residents in the Central African Republic's capital accused the French soldiers of opening fire on civilians, killing at least five.


The soldiers were on patrol in the mainly Muslim PK5 district when they were shot at by unidentified gunmen late Thursday, triggering a riposte, an official in the MISCA (African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic) peacekeeping force said.

The gunfight continued for more than three hours. Residents in neighbouring districts said they heard heavy arms fire for several hours as a helicopter flew overhead.

"The exact toll of the shooting is unknown," the MISCA official added.

A French military statement on Friday also said the soldiers had come under attack and were defending themselves.

Ousmane Abakar, a resident of the PK5 neighbourhood, said he saw five people killed
and 10 injured after the altercation, which lasted until Friday morning.

A spokesman for the Muslim community in PK5, Abakar Moustapha, also said five residents were killed and several other people were wounded.

A source close to the French forces confirmed the incident by telephone but did not give a toll.

Soldiers "attacked by angry youths"

"French soldiers were searching a house suspected to be an arms cache in the Cameroonian district [of the PK5] when they were attacked by angry youths because the Senegalese owner of the house is not in Bangui," he said.

A spokesman for the Central African Red Cross said three people with gunshot wounds were taken to a PK5 hospital overnight Thursday.

The country slipped into chaos last year after the predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels deposed president François Bozizé in a March coup.

The Seleka officially disbanded after seizing power, but some of its former members launched a campaign of killing, raping and looting, prompting communities in the Christian-majority nation to form vigilante "anti-balaka" militias, some of which are now seeking revenge on the country's Muslim minority.

Both the UN and France have warned that the crisis in the impoverished country risks degenerating into genocide and ethnic cleansing.

In an interview with FRANCE 24 in February, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said Muslims in the Central African Republic were facing “ethno-religious cleansing”.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)


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