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French journalist, 26, dies in C. African Republic

FILE - In this file photo taken Oct. 6, 2013 in the Bonga Bonga stadium in Bangui, Central African Republic, French photojournalist Camille Lepage smiles with a local dancer. (AP Photo/Sylvain Cherkaoui, File)

BANGUI: Camille Lepage, the young French journalist slain in the Central African Republic, died in a shoot-out between rival militia in which at least ten fighters died, police sources told AFP on Wednesday.

Details of the incident in the village of Gallo in the west of the former French colony emerged as the UN Security Council condemned the killing of the 26-year-old and vowed that those responsible would be brought to justice.

Lepage's body was recovered by French peacekeeping troops on Tuesday evening. She had been on an assignment with members of the "anti-balaka" Christian militia earlier in the week when they were ambushed by fighters linked to rival militia groups.

News of the journalist's death has caused shock in France and highlighted the ongoing instability of the CAR. French authorities on Wednesday opened a judicial investigation into the journalist's demise.

Lepage's mother paid tribute to a "an exceptional girl" who had died doing a job she loved. "My daughter had no fear, she was passionate, she was magnificent," she said on RTL radio.

Lepage had been in the CAR since September. She worked as a photographer for Hans Lucas, a studio based in Paris.

Her death comes six months after two French journalists for RFI radio were killed in Mali.

Deeply impoverished Central Africa has been gripped by crisis since mainly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in a March 2013 coup, but then were replaced with an interim government in January.

Splinter groups of Seleka rebels, however, embarked on a campaign of killing, raping and looting, prompting members of the Christian majority to form vigilante "anti-balaka" groups.

The two groups have unleashed a wave of tit-for-tat killings that has left thousands dead and close to a million displaced.

The UN Security Council members sent their condolences to the victim's family and underlined that, according to international humanitarian law, journalists in a conflict zone should be treated as civilians.

The Security Council statement called on the Central African Republic government to investigate the incident, and stressed that "those responsible for the killing shall be held accountable".

US President Barack Obama on Tuesday imposed sanctions against the former Central African Republic leaders Francois Bozize and Michel Djotodia and three other officials, the White House said.

The move comes on the heels of UN sanctions announced Friday by the Security Council against three of the five men, including Bozize.

The sanctions aim to send "a powerful message that impunity will not be tolerated, and that those who threaten the stability of the CAR will face consequences," the White House said in a statement.

Obama has also put in place a framework for potentially wider sanctions, calling the situation in the Central African Republic a "threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States" in a letter to Congress about the measures.

French President Francois Hollande linked Lepage's death to reports of a massacre at the weekend in which 13 people were burned alive, saying the continuing violence underlined the importance of French-led efforts to stabilise the troubled country.

 

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