French troops hurt in CAR clashes

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iol pic afr cafrica-frenchtroops- AFP French troops of the "Operation Sangaris" man a position at a checkpoint in Bangui's PK12 area, Central African Republic. Picture: FRED DUFOUR

Paris - Three French soldiers were wounded when fighters attacked them with grenades and an anti-tank missile in Central African Republic's capital, the army said, more than a year after a coup plunged the impoverished country into sectarian violence.

Paris said its troops came under fire on Wednesday as they patrolled Bangui's PK-5 neighbourhood, home to about 2 000 Muslims who have braved assaults by Christian militias and resisted pressure to disarm.

The French force was caught up in fighting between militias and the country's separate European Union force (EUFOR), which locals had accused of shooting a man dead.

Paris sent more troops into its former colony after Seleka, a coalition of mostly Muslim rebels and some fighters from neighbouring Chad and Sudan, seized power in March 2013.

Seleka's rule was marked by abuses that prompted a backlash from the 'anti-balaka' Christian militia. Cycles of tit-for-tat violence continued despite Seleka leader Michel Djotodia's resignation from the presidency in January.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement said on Wednesday one of its volunteers, Bienvenu Bandios, was shot dead while evacuating casualties from PK-5.

Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said its team in the General Hospital had received 31 people injured from gunshot wounds.

The French army said the lives of the three soldiers were not in danger “but two were evacuated back to France. The situation in Bangui is now calm but tense.”

About 2 000 French and 6 000 African Union peacekeepers have been deployed but they have struggled to help a weak transitional government stamp its authority on the mineral-rich country. A 12 000-strong UN peacekeeping force is due to start deploying next month. - Reuters

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