Gunmen ambush foreign peacekeepers in C. African town

AFP , Friday 11 Apr 2014

Central Africa
Seleka fighters stand in the town of Bria April 9, 2014 (Photo: Reuters)

Gunmen have ambushed French and African peacekeeping troops in the Central African Republic's mining town of Bria, residents said Friday.

A hospital employee said that French troops and Congolese soldiers of the African Union force MISCA were "ambushed at about 7:00 pm (1800 GMT) outside the hospital, while making their way back to their airport base."

Gunfire broke out for around half an hour outside the hospital in Bria's town centre and a MISCA soldier was wounded, added the employee, who asked not to be named.

Earlier, when the foreign troops rolled into town, 400 kilometres (250 miles) northeast of the capital Bangui, they were stoned by Muslim youths, said a teacher reached by telephone.

The teacher blamed the stone-throwing on "young Muslims manipulated by the Seleka", the former rebel coalition that seized power a year ago before some of its commanders went rogue.

He said one young man was killed in the incident but he provided no further details on the incident nor was any comment immediately available from the French and African commands.

Tension was high in Bria Friday, with shops closed while youths armed with knives roamed the streets, residents told AFP.

The French force, now 2,000 strong, was first deployed in December in a bid to stop the country's slide into chaos.

Both ex-Seleka rebels and Christian vigilantes formed to counter them are accused of atrocities against civilians, including killings, rape, mutilation and looting, at a cost of untold thousands of lives, according to eyewitnesses and human rights monitors.

About a quarter of the population of 4.6 million have fled their homes, many of them internally displaced while others have gone to neighbouring countries, particularly Cameroon.

The ethno-religious conflict has led to international warnings of a potential genocide, but it is unprecedented in a nation where Muslims and Christians formerly lived peacefully together through coups, army mutinies and general strikes.

Initially deployed in the south and the centre of the landlocked nation, the foreign troops have started to move eastwards and towards the northern border with Chad and Sudan. They are heading into territory where Seleka fighters fell back after being chased out of Bangui.

The UN Security Council voted on Thursday to send some 12,000 UN peacekeepers to the CAR, including up to 10,000 military personnel and 1,800 police. This force is intended to take over from the French and AU missions, but not until September 15.

The European Union has meanwhile pledged to send 800 men.

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