BANGUI: Youth in the Central African Republic plundered a mosque in the capital and barricaded streets with burning tyres yesterday in protest at an attack by Islamist gunmen on a church that killed about 15 people, witnesses said.
Gunfire rang out as UN peacekeepers attempted to clear the streets and few people ventured out because of the protests, which have heightened fears of further inter-religious violence and reprisals against the Muslims who remain in the city.
Witnesses saw youth from the mainly Christian “anti-Balaka” militias ransack the mosque in Bangui’s Lakouanga neighbourhood. There were no casualties as the mosque was empty.
The country has been gripped by ethnic and religious violence for a year since Seleka rebels, who are mostly Muslim, seized power. The Seleka left power in January under international pressure and since then the anti-balaka militias have attacked Muslims.
Those attacks have largely driven Muslims from the capital and other surrounding areas to the north and neighbouring countries, effectively partitioning Central African Republic, whose northeast is controlled mainly by Muslim rebel forces.
Thousands have been killed and about a million people displaced because of the conflict. More than 2.5 million people need humanitarian aid, a figure that represents more than half the population.
Yesterday’s protests were a response to an attack a day earlier in which gunmen sprayed bullets and hurled grenades at people sheltering at the Our Lady of Fatima church following a battle between anti-balaka militiamen and residents of the nearby Muslim neighbourhood of PK5.
Prime Minister André Nzapayéké condemned the attack, which he said killed 15 people, according to a provisional estimate. He gave international peacekeepers a mandate to clear out “criminal” elements from the city. “In Bangui, some criminals mutilate their victims bodies savagely while others open fire on religious buildings with heavy weapons and massacre peaceful citizens in distress,” he said. Reuters