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Bangui - A weekend of violence and looting in Bangui has left at least 10 people dead, witnesses and a humanitarian official told AFP on Sunday, including two more gruesome lynchings of minority Muslims.
Fighting broke out Saturday evening between Christian vigilantes and Muslims in the west of the Central African capital where many buildings were torched, they said.
A resident told AFP that the Muslim killer of a Christian woman was lynched and killed before his body was burned and deposited in front of the local town hall, where it could be seen early Sunday.
Suspected Christian militiamen killed another Muslim civilian, and one of the assailants was shot dead by an African peacekeeper, the witnesses told AFP. Five other people were killed in unclear circumstances, they said.
Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch confirmed the witness reports and said another Muslim was lynched early Sunday near Bangui's central market.
The former French colony has been engulfed in violence for nearly a year since the Seleka rebel group installed Michel Djotodia as the country's first Muslim president in a coup in March.
The following months saw rogue Seleka fighters unleash a wave of atrocities against Christians, prompting the emergence of “anti-balaka” (anti-machete) militia who began launching revenge attacks.
The violence has raged unabated even after Djotodia stepped aside and the parliament appointed interim President Catherine Samba Panza last month, and Muslims have been fleeing the violence in their thousands.
Meanwhile looting was rampant in Bangui, where young people could be seen removing furniture and equipment from buildings and shops despite the heavy presence of French and African peacekeepers as a French helicopter gunship circled above.
MISCA commander General Martin Tumenta Chomu on Saturday issued a stern warning to armed groups saying force would be used to stop killings, lynchings and looting.
“I ask all outlaws to lay down their weapons, and all (former soldiers) to stay in barracks. If not they will be considered outlaws.”
Muslim Central Africans and foreigners have been fleeing Bangui for several months to escape killings, looting and harassment by armed Christian militias.
The UN refugee agency said nearly 9 000 people have crossed into eastern Cameroon in the past 10 days alone.
While many Muslims try to flee Bangui, others seek safety near the capital, abandoning towns and villages in the provinces where they come under attack.
Up to 4 000 Muslims have taken refuge at the Bangui airport, near the bases of French and African troops, and hope to leave the country in the next few weeks.
Atrocities, the fear of attack and a lack of food have displaced almost a quarter of the country's population of about 4.6 million, while the United Nations and relief agencies estimate that at least two million people need humanitarian assistance.