Around 60 people have been killed in sectarian clashes in the Central African Republic between local militias and former rebels, witnesses and a local official said on Wednesday.
The mineral-rich but impoverished nation has descended into chaos since mostly Muslim Seleka rebels from the north seized the capital Bangui in March, ousting President Francois Bozize.
The new transitional government’s failure to stem the violence has prompted the U.N. Security Council to consider intervening to restore order.
Local self-defense militias, known as “anti-balaka” or anti-machetes, attacked a Seleka position in the mining village of Gaga, around 250 km (150 miles) northwest of Bangui, on Monday, killing four ex-rebels before attacking Muslim civilians.
The Seleka fighters retaliated against Christian civilians in the village, witnesses said. Seleka gunmen, many of them from neighboring Chad and Sudan, have repeatedly been accused of desecrating churches and terrorizing Christian communities.
“We’re waiting for reinforcements in order to go there but the different accounts we’ve gathered from survivors coming from Gaga lead us to believe there are over 60 dead,” said Judicael Kama, a gendarme in the nearby town of Yaloke.
Many of those wounded in the violence were taken to Yaloke’s hospital, around 35 km from Gaga.
“The Seleka fighters went door to door. It was total terror,” Raymond Kitivo, who was wounded in the attack, told Reuters by telephone from the hospital in Yaloke.
The violence erupted less than a week after at least 14 people were killed in fighting between Muslims and Christians in the isolated eastern town of Bangassou, in further evidence that the clashes are becoming increasingly sectarian.
U.N. officials and rights groups say both Seleka and their opponents may have committed war crimes in the past few months.
Last month French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Central African Republic risked becoming a new Somalia if it did not get immediate support. He is expected to visit Bangui on Sunday to assess the situation.
Security Council diplomats may vote on Thursday on a French-drafted resolution calling on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to submit a report on possible international support for a planned African Union peacekeeping mission known as MISCA.
According to the draft, obtained by Reuters, Ban’s report should include “the possible option of a transformation of MISCA into a United Nations peacekeeping operation, subject to appropriate conditions on the ground”.
Former colonial power France, which intervened earlier this year to oust Islamist rebels from another of its former African colonies, Mali, has been reluctant to get directly involved in the crisis. It has urged African nations and the African Union to do their utmost to resolve the crisis among themselves.
But while the African Union plans to deploy the 3,600-strong MISCA mission, incorporating a regional force of 1,100 soldiers already there, it is unlikely to be operational before 2014.