About 1,000 people held hostage since the weekend by armed militias in a mosque amid violent clashes in south-eastern Central African Republic have been freed, UN officials said.
“I can confirm the mosque is now empty. The last 250 men inside have been transferred out,” said Herve Verhoosel, spokesman for the UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSCA), by telephone from Bangui.
Women, children and the injured were set free earlier on Monday before the remaining men were evacuated from the building.
He added MINUSCA forces had since opened fire on militias guarding the mosque and had mobilised a helicopter to the town on the Congolese border.
The Bangassou clashes entered their third day on Monday and involve hundreds of fighters with heavy weaponry in the latest sign a multi-year conflict spurred by ethnic and religious tensions is worsening.
So far, the bodies of 26 people have been identified.
Assailants have targeted civilians and UN peacekeepers, killing a soldier, as well as the airport and strategic bridges across the River Mbomou.