C. African Republic city tense after church attack
BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — A group of Christian youth destroyed one of the last mosques in Central African Republic’s capital on Thursday, hours after Muslim rebels launched a grenade and gunfire attack on a Catholic church, officials and residents said.
Ousmane Abakar, a spokesman for Bangui’s small remaining Muslim community, denounced the Wednesday attack on the church and denied that local Muslims were to blame.
“For six months we have been the ones subjected to violence and the destruction of our mosques, including the one ruined in the Lakouanga neighborhood this morning,” he said.
Tens of thousands of Muslims have fled the capital in a mass exodus this year following scores of attacks by Christian militia fighters who blamed them for supporting a brutal Muslim rebel regime that was ousted from power in January.
Wednesday’s attack on the Notre Dame de Fatima church was a rare large-scale assault on a Christian community in Bangui. At least 15 people were killed including a priest at the church, according to the Rev. Jonas Bekas. It was not immediately possible to confirm the total death toll, as some victims were brought to hospitals and other civilians were abducted by the fighters.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned the church attack, as well as another brutal assault by Christian militia fighters that killed three Muslims who were on their way to an inter-communal reconciliation soccer match.
“The Secretary-General calls for an immediate end to the cycle of violence and retaliatory attacks,” said a statement from Ban’s spokesman.
On Thursday, a French helicopter buzzed overhead Bangui and foreign peacekeepers fired warning shots as they patrolled the tense city. Youths burned tires, sending dark clouds of smoke into the sky and put up roadblocks in their neighborhoods.
Thousands of people also marched in another part of Bangui, shouting slogans against the peacekeeping forces they say have failed to protect them. About 2,000 French troops and nearly 5,000 peacekeepers from neighboring African countries are trying to help stabilize Central African Republic.
The long near-anarchic country exploded into sectarian violence back in December, though the capital had seen weeks of relative calm before Wednesday’s church attack.
The Muslim rebels were known as Seleka during their time in power, and were bolstered by mercenary fighters from neighboring Chad and Sudan. While they left the seat of government in the capital, the forces are still active in the north-central region and have been blamed for killing scores of civilians there in recent weeks.
Associated Press writer Steve Niko contributed to this report.