At least three people have died as residents threw grenades and torched homes in clashes between supporters of the Seleka and anti-Balaka in Central African Republic’s capital, witnesses said.
French and African troops deployed in the country have struggled to stop the tit-for-tat violence between the mainly Muslim Seleka, who seized power in March, and predominantly Christian anti-Balaka, meaning “anti-machete”, fighters, that killed more than 1,000 people in December.
Residents of Bangui said on Wednesday that Seleka fighters wearing civilian clothes threw grenades at the houses of people thought to be Christian, in a northern district of the city.
Christian youths then launched reprisal attacks, burning the nearby homes of people thought to be Muslim.
“The Muslims came and set fire to the houses,” said Aristide Yenga, resident of the Ngou Simon neighbourhood in the north of the capital Bangui.
“Everyone was affected.
“This morning they began shooting and when we heard that we left for the larger [displaced persons’] camps.”
The body of a Seleka fighter with his left hand severed off and missing lay in the middle of a large dirt avenue following
the attacks, a witness told Reuters news agency.
A resident of the neighbourhood who asked not to be named said that two other Muslims had been killed there overnight.
No peacekeepers were present, although a French helicopter flew overhead, the witness told Reuters.
The incidents occurred in the city’s fifth district which houses both Muslims and Christians and where heavy artillery battles took place the previous two nights.
Meanwhile, more than 100,000 people displaced by inter-religious violence in Central African Republic are sheltering at a makeshift camp at Bangui airport, a medical charity has said, calling for urgent aid.
Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) said it was receiving between 15 and 20 wounded a day at the site from fighting in the riverside capital, where the deployment of French and African peacekeepers in early December has failed to halt violence.
MSF said the airport camp, which stretches for kilometres beside the runway, lacked proper sanitation as well as supplies of food and water as UN agencies have failed to keep pace with the scale of the problem.
“If nothing is done in the next two weeks there is a risk of an epidemic breaking out,” said Lindis Hurum, MSF coordinator at the airport camp.
“MSF demands an increase in the emergency actions being taken by humanitarian agencies.”
Without proper infrastructure at the camp, thousands of families are sheltering from the tropical sun under cardboard boxes or makeshift tents made of blankets tied to sticks.
Despite the conditions, a spike in violence in recent weeks has driven tens of thousands of people to airport, which is patrolled by Burundian soldiers from the African Union peacekeeping force (MISCA) and lies next to a French military base.
The United Nations launched an appeal on Friday for $152m to help meet emergency humanitarian needs such as drinking water and sanitation in makeshift camps in the former French colony.
It estimates that more than 800,000 people are displaced across the country as a whole.