Peacekeepers under fire in C. African Republic conflict

An African Union peacekeeper carries an elderly Cameroonian woman, too frail to walk, to a military vehicle shuttling Cameroonian citizens to the airport for an evacuation flight, in Bangui, Central African Republic, Friday, Dec. 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

DAKAR: Two more African Union peacekeepers were killed overnight in the Central African Republic, officials said Friday, bringing to 11 the number of international peacekeepers killed in less than a month and underscoring the dangerous nature of the unfolding conflict in the nation. The two officers from the Republic of Congo were killed by unidentified assailants, African Union mission spokesman Eloi Yao told the Associated Press by telephone from Central African Republic. Their deaths come a day after a pickup truck carrying Chadian peacekeepers was attacked with heavy arms fire, incinerating the vehicle and killing six of the soldiers inside. Fifteen others were wounded in that attack. Earlier this month, two French soldiers were also killed in Bangui, the country’s troubled capital.

“Last night, two police officers with the MISCA [the African Union peacekeeping force] from the Republic of Congo were killed by unidentified gunmen after they ambushed them during a patrol in the town of Bangui,” Yao said.

Calm appeared to have returned to Bangui Friday, after heavy fighting which came perilously close to the presidential palace, according to Guy Simplice spokesman for President Michel Djotodia.

Simplice said there had been heavy fighting near the seat of government, before the army was able to block the aggressors. Although the attackers could not immediately be identified, for weeks there have been rumors that a Christian militia, believed to be backed by the president, who was ousted by Djotodia in a coup nine months ago, would attempt to seize back power.

Also Friday, the country’s Attorney General Ghislain Gresenguet announced that he had opened an investigation into a mass grave discovered on a hillside not far from the palace. At least 20 decomposing bodies were found, he said. The remains were several days old and Gresenguet said the wounds they bore indicated the victims had likely been tortured before their deaths.

“Some of the bodies were bound, their hands tied together with rope. Other bodies were mutilated, with large wounds. Though we don’t know if they were caused by firearms or by machetes,” said the chief prosecutor by telephone.

Earlier this month, the United Nations Security Council authorized a French and an African Union intervention mission.

A total of 1,600 French troops and some 3,000 African troops have been deployed since Dec. 5 to the country which some officials have described as on the verge of genocide.

Central African Republic began its slide into anarchy nine months ago, following a coup by a Muslim rebel group. They stormed the capital, and forced out the nation’s Christian president, as well as the mostly Christian elite presidential guard. The soldiers loyal to the former regime are believed to be backing a Christian militia, which has led repeated attacks on the capital, as well as targeted killings of Muslims, and assaults on mosques. The level of violence has shocked even hardened Africa watchers, with Christian youth in the capital openly lynching Muslims, who are accused of complicity with the rebels who seized power.

An Associated Press journalist saw young men parading in the streets with the severed penis of one of their victims, and with the hacked-off foot of another.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 28, 2013, on page 8.




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