, BANGUI Sep 29 – Tension and fear on Monday gripped Bangui, the capital of Central African Republic, with the city’s main streets closed by barricades after a spate of violence, looting and the death of three protestors.
A witness and hospital source, who both asked not to be named, said violence broke out after UN peacekeepers opened fire as several hundred protestors headed for the presidency.
The UN’s peacekeeping force, MINUSCA, denied the account but said it would seek to “verify” the accusations.
The demonstrators were demanding the resignation of interim leader Catherine Samba Panza after the deaths of at least 20 people in Bangui at the weekend.
Western diplomats said Samba Panza had left a meeting of the UN General Assembly on Monday because of the trouble brewing at home.
Three people were killed and seven injured by the UN peacekeepers, the hospital source told AFP, adding that a teenager was also killed by a stray bullet when shooting broke out elsewhere in the city after the protest was broken up.
“MINUSCA peacekeeping officers deny (reports) that they opened fire on the population,” the mission said in a statement sent to AFP.
“That said, MINUSCA remains concerned by such allegations and will proceed to verifying them,” it added.
With barricades raised across the city Monday, French and UN peacekeepers were on watch at key points after weekend trouble triggered by the killing of a motorcycle-taxi driver.
Few vehicles ventured out onto the roads and most shops remained shuttered throughout the day as fears of a escalation of the Muslim-Christian violence that has riven the country.
“The (military) gendarmerie, the defence ministry and state radio all came under attack during the night by armed individuals,” said a Central African army source, who asked to remain anonymous.
“The attacks were repulsed, causing some fatalities among the assailants,” added the source, without providing further details.
– Fresh wave of violence –
Bangui’s latest round of violence broke out on Saturday after claims a motorcycle-taxi driver was murdered in central Bangui’s Muslim-majority PK-5 neighbourhood.
More than 20 people were killed and around 100 injured when violence spread to other districts, medical sources said, and on Sunday protesters threw up barricades in several parts of the city.
PK-5 neighbourhood was the epicentre of unprecedented killings between Christians and Muslims in Bangui in late 2013 and early last year. It remains the last bastion for Muslims hounded from other districts by Christian “anti-balaka” militias.
The trouble in the already restive, impoverished nation led Prime Minister Mahamat Kamoun to slap a curfew on the capital.
On Monday evening, prisoners held in Ngaragba jail — most of them anti-balaka fighters — escaped, a military source said.
Central African Republic descended into bloodshed more than two years ago after a coup ousted longtime leader Francois Bozize, triggering the worst crisis since independence in 1960.
The country since has remained prey to violence between the mostly Muslim Seleka fighters and Christian militias known as the “anti-balaka”, or anti-machete.
Though the level of violence has fallen significantly since last year, the country still has high crime rates fuelled in part by easy access to weapons left over from the sectarian conflict.
French soldiers and UN peacekeepers remain in the former French colony, where thousands of people died in the violence and hundreds of thousands remain displaced from their homes.
A spokesman for the European Union’s foreign service appealed Monday night for an end to attacks on civilians.
“Attacks on the civilian populations and the targeting of humanitarian workers whose aim is to deliver lifesaving aid must stop immediately,” the statement said.
“The overwhelming majority of citizens of the country deserve and demand an end to conflict and division between communities for the country’s prospects for peace and recovery,” it added.
Presidential and legislative elections are due to be held by the end of the year, but they have already been pushed back several times as the country continues to grapple with the crisis.