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Bangui - Rwandan peacekeepers intervened on Sunday to halt a lynching of Muslims, shooting dead one member of a crowd that had killed two Muslims in the capital of Central African Republic, a Rwandan military spokesman said.
Residents reported at least nine people killed in inter-religious violence at the weekend.
It was the third daylight lynching reported this week in Bangui as violence rages between the Christian majority and Muslims accused of links to Seleka, a former rebel grouping that seized power last year and ruled until January.
The presence of 1 600 French soldiers and 5 000 African Union troops has failed to stop the violence, which the United Nations says has killed more than 2 000 people and displaced nearly a quarter of the country's 4.5 million people.
A spokesman for Rwanda's military, which is taking part in the AU mission, said its soldiers fired warning shots at a Christian crowd in the Miskine neighbourhood of north Bangui.
“A mob of Christians killed two Muslims. They were in the process of killing other Muslims so our troops responded by firing warning shots,” Brigadier General Joseph Nzabamwita said. “One among the mob was unfortunately shot dead and we were able to protect the rest of the Muslim community in the area.”
Residents said the Muslims were attacked after one of them went on a rampage with a gun and hand grenades, killing five people on Saturday evening and a woman early on Sunday.
“This morning he shot at us again. That is why we attacked his house and set it on fire,” said one young man, who identified himself only as Clinton.
A Reuters witness saw a machete-wielding crowd drag the body of one of the men through the streets before setting it on fire.
The International Criminal Court said on Friday it would open a preliminary examination into crimes, including killings, rape and sexual slavery alleged to have been committed during the conflict.
The medical charity Medecins Sans Fontieres has warned that attacks against Muslims were increasing, estimating that 40 000 people had fled to neighbouring Chad and Cameroon.
Christians and Muslims long lived in peace in the landlocked nation but tensions escalated after the mostly Muslim Seleka fighters seized power in March and embarked on a 10-month reign of terror marked by looting, torture and murder.
Resentment among the Christian majority led to a backlash against Muslims by “anti-balaka” militias, meaning “anti-machete” in the Sango language, fanning the flames of inter-religious bloodshed.
Seleka's leader Michel Djotodia stepped down as president last month under international pressure and went into exile.
Interim President Catherine Samba-Panza, the former mayor of Bangui, has pledged to restore peace and lead the country to elections next year. She flew to Congo Republic on Sunday for talks with regional power broker President Denis Sassou-Nguesso on how to restore peace.
The difficulties facing Samba-Panza were emphasised on Wednesday when soldiers lynched and mutilated a suspected rebel at a military ceremony she attended in the capital.