Former rebels who seized power in Central Africa Republic are looting and killing indiscriminately in the country’s remote northwest, residents said on Friday, amid mounting pressure for a firm international response to the crisis.
The mineral-rich but poor nation has descended into chaos since the Seleka rebels captured the capital Bangui in March, toppling President Francois Bozize and unleashing a wave of violence that new leader Michel Djotodia has failed to control.
French President Francoise Hollande called this week for urgent U.N. action to stabilize the nation of 4.5 million people at the heart of Africa, which has suffered a series of rebellions since independence from France in 1960, Reuters reports.
The United Nations has said Central African Republic is on the brink of collapse. Aid organizations say there is a complete absence of state authority outside Bangui, with roaming armed groups looting and killing at will.
In the village of Ngaoundaye, about 500 km (300 miles) northwest of the capital, pastor Bernard Dilla said Seleka fighters chasing suspected bandits on Wednesday rounded up eight farmers in a field and shot them.
“They were furious at not catching the bandits so they turned on the farmers instead,” Dilla told Reuters by telephone. “A young boy they had used as a tracker was also shot.”
The pastor said Seleka gunmen also attacked the nearby village of Makele and torched 10 homes. In retaliation, the villagers killed two Seleka fighters with spears.
The day before, Seleka forces aboard four-by-four vehicles attacked the village of Bo, 50 km from Ngaoundaye, looting and burning homes and killing five people, residents said.
In Beboura, about 140 km east of Ngoundaye, villagers said Seleka gunmen killed a group of five young men on Friday after one of them argued with the fighters a day before.
Security Minister Josue Binoua declined to comment, saying a fact-finding mission would be dispatched on Saturday.
The incidents came after thousands of civilians fled to Bangui’s international airport on Wednesday, blocking the tarmac for several hours, to escape marauding Seleka fighters. On Sunday, Seleka gunmen killed at least 13 people in an attack on the neighborhood of Boy-Rabe in Bangui.
The African Union is deploying a 3,600-strong peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic, incorporating a regional force of 1,100 soldiers already on the ground.
France, which has a small force in Bangui securing the airport, wants the United Nations to provide financial and logistical support to the African Union mission, diplomats say.
Seleka, a grouping of five northern rebel movements, launched its insurgency in December, accusing Bozize of reneging on a 2007 peace deal.