Johannesburg – United Nations and aid workers have reported that hundreds of civilians are seeking refuge in a mosque in Bangassou, a town in the Central African Republic (CAR) bordering the Congo, after Christian militias massacred up to 30 civilians over the weekend.
Hundreds of heavily armed men, supported by heavy weaponry, have been targeting Muslims as the situation in the CAR continues to deteriorate after years of conflict.
Herve Verhoosel, a spokesperson for the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) reported that a UN base in the town had also been targeted.
This prompted MINUSCA to promptly deploy extra troops to fend off further attacks with Verhoosel reporting that the town had been partly secured early Sunday evening.
“The situation is extremely deplorable and we are doing everything to rapidly retake control of Bangassou,” MINUSCA chief Parfait Onanga-Anyanga told the media in an interview.
Onanga-Anyanga said that many of the militia soldiers were child soldiers who appeared to be under the influence of drugs.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres expressed outrage at the attack on the 13 000-strong UN peacekeeping mission which had previously killed six peacekeepers in Bangassou, an area which had previously been spared from the conflict.
The Voice of America (VOA) reported that local Red Cross President Pastor Antoine Mbao Bogo said gunfire continued to ring out from the town on Sunday, blocking attempts by his organisation and others to reach the wounded and recover the dead.
CAR Prime Minister Simplice Sarandji also condemned the attacks and vowed to bring those responsible to justice.
Despite pledges by militias to take part in a government-led disarmament programme, militias from rival ethnic and religious groups have increased their attacks on opponents with aid workers reporting that a security void left after Ugandan and French soldiers departs had been used by the militias to their advantage.
Inter-religious violence has plagued the country since 2013 after Muslim Seleka militia men seized power and ousted then-President Francois Bozize, prompting reprisal killings from anti-balaka militias drawn from the Christian minority.
More than 400 000 people in the former French colony are displaced internally and 2.2 million, or nearly half the population, are reliant on aid.
“Civilians continued to bear the brunt of the fighting and armed groups raped and sexually assaulted women and girls. An estimated 467 800 people, the majority of them Muslim, remained refugees in neighbouring countries,” Human Rights Watch said in its 2017 report on the CAR.