At least 22 people, including 15 local chiefs and three members of staff of the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres, were killed in an attack on a town in the Central African Republic.
The attack on Saturday was in Nanga Boguila, about 450 km north of the capital Bangui. Some 2 000 French and over 5 000 African peacekeepers are struggling to halt waves of violence that have gripped the country over the last 18 months.
Gilles Xavier Nguembassa, a former member of parliament for the area, said four people were killed as the assailants approached the town but most died when Seleka rebels went to an MSF-run health clinic in search of money.
The attack took place while local chiefs were holding a meeting there and the gunmen opened fire when some of the chiefs tried to run away he said.
“Fifteen of the local chiefs were killed on the spot,” he told Reuters, citing witnesses he had spoken to. A local representative of the Bangui government confirmed the incident.
A spokesman for MSF confirmed the deaths of its staff but gave no further details. Seleka officials were not immediately available for comment.
The mainly Muslim Seleka forces seized Bangui in March 2013 but their time in power was scarred by killings and other rights abuses, prompting the creation of the mainly Christian “anti-balaka” self-defence militia.
Seleka leaders stepped down in January under intense international pressure but the peacekeepers and a weak interim government have failed to stamp their authority on the country, which has seen little, but political instability and conflict since independence from France in 1960.
Underscoring the depth of the crisis, peacekeepers escorted around 1 300 Muslims out of Bangui on Sunday, triggering looting and removing one of the last pockets of Muslims from the capital, deepening Muslim-Christian divisions.
Around a million people have fled their homes during the crisis and human rights officials say parts of the country have seen “religious cleansing”.