30 killed in C. Africa capital in three days: ICRC

AFP , Friday 31 Jan 2014

French forces move into a courtyard where a Muslim man lies dead moments after he was killed, in the Miskin district of Bangui, Central African Republic, Wednesday Jan. 29, 2014 (Photo: AP)

Attacks in the capital of Central African Republic have killed at least 30 people in three days, the international Red Cross said on Friday, ahead of a pledging conference to help peacekeeping troops.

Thirty bodies have been collected from the streets of Bangui, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation Georgios Georgantas said, adding that he was very concerned by an "unprecedented level of violence" that has also left at least 60 people wounded.

The poor, landlocked country descended into chaos 10 months ago after mainly Muslim rebels overthrew the government and installed one of their leaders, Michel Djotodia.

His Seleka fighters began targeting people from the Christian majority, prompting the emergence of self-defence groups that launched revenge attacks on Muslims amid reports of murder, mutilation, rape and looting by both sides.

By the time Djotodia was effectively ousted by regional leaders on January 10 for his failure to end spiralling bloodshed that claimed thousands of lives, about a million people were displaced in a population of 4.6 million.

Georgantas urged the authorities and some 7,000 French and African troops based near Bangui airport to help restore order to "take up their responsibilities" and keep the peace in a city abandoned by hundreds of thousands of residents.

The foreign soldiers patrol districts of the capital, where French troops this week warned looters that they would open fire if they failed to disperse. There has been widespread pillaging recently in districts where residents have fled their homes and shops.

The ICRC delegation chief also called on civilians "to respect the emblem of the Red Cross and its personnel while they do their jobs".

"When we go through roadblocks to evacuate the wounded, each trip calls for long and difficult negotiations to move on. This endangers the lives of the wounded and causes a lot of stress to our personnel," he added.

African leaders and Western diplomats are set to hold a pledging conference in Addis Ababa on Saturday to raise funds for the African Union-led military mission known as MISCA, which is expected to be 6,000 strong by the end of March.

"What we hope is strong support for MISCA, to enable it to implement its mandate more effectively," the director of the AU peace and security council, El-Ghassim Wane, told AFP in the Ethiopian capital.

The ICRC casualty toll is believed to be lower than the actual figure, because many families bury their own dead and they also avoid taking wounded relatives to health centres because of the high level of insecurity in several districts.

The country's new interim president, Catherine Samba Panza, has maintained an overnight curfew that begins at 6:00 pm (1700 GMT) and was imposed by her predecessor in a bid to quell unrest.

The curfew means that civilians wounded at the end of the day or during night attacks must wait until morning to receive medical attention. Volunteers in the Central African Red Cross set to work at dawn to help victims and collect bodies reported to them by families or local residents.

The UN World Food Programme announced in Geneva that it has provided food assistance to 220,000 displaced people since the start of the year in Bangui and the towns of Bouar and Bossangoa to the north, despite the violence, while starting reach vulnerable people in rural areas outside Bossangoa.

But the agency said that it has received only 14 percent of the $107 million (79 million euro) appeal for emergency operations from January to August. "WFP urgently needs $95 million to immediately distribute life-saving food assistance and to pre-position food stocks before the rains start in April and roads become impassable," it said in a statement.

The European Union meanwhile pledged 45 million euros ($61 million) in fresh funding on Friday, just over half of which would be used to back the MISCA mission, EU officials said.

"We are mobilising all available resources, not just development aid, to help the people of the Central African Republic and improve their security," said EU Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs.

The EU has already committed around 150 million euros to the crisis, and this month approved a 500-strong force to be deployed in CAR, alongside the 5,500 MISCA soldiers and 1,600 French troops.

The country's new interim leader Catherine Samba-Panza has called for more international troops, while the EU has pledged to back her efforts to lead the country towards elections.

The United Nations believes at least 10,000 troops will eventually be needed to restore order, France's UN ambassador Gerard Araud said after the latest UN Security Council initiative on the crisis.

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