BANGUI, CENTRAL African Republic (AFP) — At least 11 people were killed in fighting between militiamen and traders in a restive district of Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, two security officials and an imam said Thursday.
Between 11 and 14 people died after clashes erupted late Wednesday, the security sources said, while the imam, Awad Al Karim, said “16 bodies” had been brought to the local Ali Babolo mosque.
The fighting began after traders in a mainly Muslim district called PK5 took up arms to oppose taxes levied by militia groups, the imam said.
Bursts of automatic fire and explosions were heard on Wednesday evening and on Thursday morning, according to an AFP journalist who was in a neighbouring district.
Bili Aminou Alao, spokesman for the UN peacekeeping force MINUSCA, said a rapid response force had been sent to the area.
“Part of the market and some vehicles have been burned,” he said.
“Between 40 and 50 shops have been burned down, as well as four or five houses,” said Patrick Bidilou Niabode, head of the CAR’s civil protection service.
Voluntary firefighters put out two fires which had been spreading in the market but were unable to tackle a blaze at two houses because of heavy gunfire, he added.
The CAR is one of the world’s poorest and most volatile countries.
It has been gripped by sporadic violence since 2014, after its then-president, Francois Bozize, was ousted in a coup.
Fierce fighting erupted between predominantly Christian and Muslim militia, prompting the intervention of former colonial power France, under a UN mandate.
Attempts to broker a lasting peace have repeatedly broken down and most the country lies in the hands of armed groups, who often fight over the country’s mineral resources.
PK5 is a powder keg district. It became a haven for many Bangui Muslims at the peak of the Christian-Muslim clashes.
In April 2018, MINUSCA, responding to appeals by local traders, launched an anti-militia operation named Sukula (“Clean-up” in the CAR language of Sango).
The operation ended bloodily with the death of about 30 people and a hundred wounded, sparking a wave of anger among local people.
The CAR’s long conflict has forced nearly a quarter of the country’s 4.7 million people to flee their homes.
The United Nations estimated in September that two thirds of the population depends on humanitarian aid to survive.
The country is ranked next-to-last after Niger on the 2018 UNDP’s Human Development Index, which compares longevity, education, and income per capita. Life expectancy is just 52.9 years.
© Agence France-Presse