April 10, 2014 Updated: April 10, 2014 at 11:04 am
BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — Clashes between Christian and Muslim fighters in Central African Republic have left at least 30 people dead and forced others to flee their homes, a priest said Thursday.
Everaldo De Suza of the Saint Anne parish in the central town of Dekoa said that the fighting began Tuesday when Christian militants attacked and Muslim fighters fought back.
A Christian commander confirmed the fighting but denied that his forces had started it. The death toll could not be independently confirmed.
The Muslim fighters, members of the disbanded Seleka rebel alliance who had a tenuous hold on the town when the fighting began, called for reinforcements, De Suza said. Most of the dead were civilians, killed by Muslims who fired into a crowd of people they mistook for Christian militants, he said.
Pillaging and death threats from the fighters forced many others to flee the town for the bush, he said.
Central African Republic, long unstable, descended deeper into chaos following a coup last year by the Seleka alliance, which proceeded to commit atrocities against civilians. Christian militias sprung up in response, vowing revenge.
France has sent about 2,000 troops, and the African Union peacekeeping force says it now has about 5,000 forces in the country after the departure of Chadian troops. But the sectarian violence continues to escalate. As a result, the Security Council on Thursday unanimously approved a nearly 12,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force for Central African Republic. The 10,000 U.N. troops and 1,800 police will take over from African Union soldiers — but not until Sept. 15.
France, in particular, is eager for greater involvement on the part of the international community, as the immensity of the task becomes clear. It has already extended its commitment, but its troops have so far struggled to provide security in the vast country. Last week, it added about 50 gendarmes to its ranks to help patrol in the capital.
On Wednesday, two French soldiers were lightly injured by a grenade, according to Capt. Sebastien Isern, spokesman for the French force in Bangui.
Associated Press writer Steve Niko contributed to this report.