Death toll up as violence ravages CAR

More than 500 people have been killed over the past week in sectarian fighting in Central African Republic, aid officials said Tuesday, as France reported that gunmen killed two of its soldiers who were part of the intervention to disarm thousands of rebels accused of attacking civilians.

BANGUI — More than 500 people have been killed over the past week in sectarian fighting in Central African Republic, aid officials said Tuesday, as France reported that gunmen killed two of its soldiers who were part of the intervention to disarm thousands of rebels accused of attacking civilians.

Aid workers have collected 461 bodies across Bangui, the capital, since Thursday, said Antoine Mbao Bogo of the local Red Cross. But that latest figure does not include the scores of Muslim victims whose bodies were brought to mosques for burial.

The government of the predominantly Christian country was overthrown in March by Muslim rebels from the country’s north. While the rebels claimed no religious motive for seizing power, months of resentment and hostility erupted last week in a wave of violence.

The French deaths came as French President Francois Hollande arrived for a visit to France’s former colony, heading into the tumultuous capital after attending a memorial in South Africa for Nelson Mandela.

“The mission is dangerous. We know it,” Hollande told troops in a huge airport hangar after paying respects at the coffins of the two young soldiers. “But it is necessary in order to avoid carnage.”

President Michel Djotodia condemned the attack on the French forces and blamed former leader Francois Bozize, whom he ousted from power in March, for creating the turmoil now being unleashed on the streets of Bangui. Some 100,000 people have been forced from their homes, aid officials say.

The early French casualties underscore the volatility of the mission to disarm combatants and bring stability to a largely anarchic capital. A mob on Monday stoned to death a suspected enemy in the street, and armed fighters have abducted and killed hospital patients.

Tensions flared again Tuesday as a mob of young men set fire to a mosque in the Fou neighbourhood of Bangui. Smoke billowed from smouldering vehicles nearby, and young men used pick axes and whatever tools they found to try to tear down the walls of the mosque.

Elsewhere, citizens killed three suspected ex-rebels in the Miskine neighbourhood of Bangui after the men apparently fired weapons at civilians, residents said.

President Djotodia said Tuesday that former leader Bozize and his supporters had set the stage for the crisis months ago.

“The current situation is the logical result of what former President Bozize set in motion by freeing prisoners and bandits, distributing weapons of war and machetes in the neighbourhoods of Bangui, and inciting tribalism and religious hatred,” Djotodia said. Bozize was overthrown after a decade in power and his current whereabouts are unknown. The former president maintains it was the arrival of thousands of rebels who descended upon the capital with arms who created the chaos.

The government of Central African Republic, a predominantly Christian country, was overthrown in March by Muslim rebels from the country’s north. While the rebels claimed no religious motive for seizing power, months of resentment and hostility erupted last week in a wave of violence that left more than 500 people dead. The local Red Cross said Tuesday its toll alone had grown from 394 to 461.

France now has some 1,600 troops on the ground in Central African Republic, patrolling neighbourhoods and trying to disarm militants from the Seleka rebel movement that forced the president into exile and installed their own leader Michel Djotodia as head of state.

The two French troops were part of a team inspecting a neighbourhood just over a kilometre (less than a mile) east of Bangui’s airport at about midnight Monday, in preparation for a disarmament operation, French military spokesman Col. Gilles Jaron said in Paris.

Five to 10 gunmen opened fire on the French patrol, which returned fire, he said. Two Frenchmen were wounded but died in the hospital. It was unclear whether anyone else died in the clash.

Jaron described “sporadic fire” around Bangui and occasional clashes since the French disarmament efforts got under way Monday. France has described the program as a key part of its bid to stabilize Bangui, a city awash in weapons after years of rebellions and coups.

And France’s defence minister has warned militia groups to disarm peacefully — or French troops will do it by force.

“The launching of the disarmament operation of ex-Seleka in the city is an encouraging first stage in the effort to secure Bangui,” said Thibaud Lesueur of the International Crisis Group. “From now on they should move to disarm the Seleka combatants who are in the neighbourhoods and find the caches of weapons that are still numerous in the city.”

Two deaths within days of the operation beginning marks a significant toll compared to France’s mission in Mali earlier this year. A total of seven French soldiers have been killed there since January as a French-led African force routed al-Qaida-linked extremists controlling the north.

French officials have warned of the dangers of the enhanced military mission alongside African Union troops in Central African Republic, authorized under a muscular mandate approved last week by the United Nations Security Council.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Erika Fetterly, owner of EFP Studios, recently launched the Let Them Have A Voice campaign. (Contributed photo)
Central Alberta photographer’s campaign aims to give youths a voice

An Innisfail photographer is giving a platform to young central Albertans so… Continue reading

The Red Deer Rebels hosted the Medicine Hat Tigers in the first game of the shortened 2020-21 season on Friday. The two teams faced off again in Medicine Hat Saturday (Photo by Rob Wallator/ Red Deer Rebels)
Red Deer Rebels fall to Medicine Hat Tigers on Saturday

Tigers 7 Rebels 2 The Red Deer Rebels have lost two straight… Continue reading

Alberta has 1,910 active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Red Deer is reporting five active cases, with 108 recovered. (File photo)
Red Deer reports 25th COVID-19 death

415 new cases identified provincially Saturday

More than 120,000 Albertans have signed up to get the COVID-19 vaccine in the first two days of appointment bookings. (Photo courtesy Alberta Health Services Twitter)
Alberta Health Services apologizes after seniors struggle to book vaccine appointments

The CEO and president of Alberta Health Services is apologizing after seniors… Continue reading

Red Deer’s Kyle Moore, 26, will be a houseguest on Season 9 of Big Brother Canada. (Photo courtesy Big Brother Canada)
Red Deer man will be a houseguest on Big Brother Canada

A Red Deer man will be a houseguest on the upcoming season… Continue reading

Red Deer science-communicating dogs Bunsen and Beaker helped save a missing pet recently. The two dogs have more than 80,000 followers on Twitter. (Contributed photo)
WATCH: Red Deer science dogs help save lost pet

Red Deer science-communicating dogs Bunsen and Beaker helped rescue a missing pet… Continue reading

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during a news conference in Edmonton on Feb. 24, 2020. It’s budget day in the province, and Kenney’s United Conservative government is promising more help in the fight against COVID, but more red ink on the bottom line. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta Premier slams vandalism after slur painted on MLA’s office window

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is condemning alleged vandalism at the… Continue reading

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Machin waits to appear at the Standing Committee on Finance on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on Tuesday, November 1, 2016. Executives who engage in so-called "vaccine tourism" show both an ethical disregard for those less fortunate and a surprising lack of business acumen, experts argue. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine tourism is both unethical and bad for business, experts say

Executives who engage in so-called “vaccine tourism” show both an ethical disregard… Continue reading

Edmonton Oilers' Jesse Puljujarvi (13) and Toronto Maple Leafs' Justin Holl (3) battle in front as goalie Jack Campbell (36) makes the save during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, February 27, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
No Matthews, no problem: Minus NHL goal leader, Maple Leafs blank Oilers 4-0

Leafs 4 Oilers 0 EDMONTON — The Maple Leafs knew even with… Continue reading

The Pornhub website is shown on a computer screen in Toronto on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Pornhub policies reveal legal gaps and lack of enforcement around exploitive videos

OTTAWA — Serena Fleites was in seventh grade when a sexually explicit… Continue reading

Sean Hoskin stands on a neighbourhood street in Halifax on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Hoskin was diagnosed with COVID-19 almost a year ago with symptoms that still persist. Some provinces have established programs to deal with long-term sufferers but Atlantic Canada, with relatively low numbers of patients, has yet to provide a resource to assist them. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
On East Coast, exhausted COVID-19 ‘long haulers’ hope specialized clinics will emerge

HALIFAX — On evenings when Sean Hoskin collapses into bed, heart pounding… Continue reading

Ottawa Senators goaltender Matt Murray (30) stands in his crease as Calgary Flames left wing Andrew Mangiapane (88), left to right, defenceman Rasmus Andersson (4), Matthew Tkachuk (19), Mikael Backlund (11) and Mark Giordano (5) celebrate a goal during second period NHL action in Ottawa on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Calgary Flames beat Ottawa 6-3 to end Senators’ three-game win streak

Flames 6 Senators 3 OTTAWA — The Calgary Flames used a balanced… Continue reading

Crosses are displayed in memory of the elderly who died from COVID-19 at the Camilla Care Community facility during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on November 19, 2020. The number of people who would have died from a COVID-19 infection is likely to be much higher than recorded because of death certificates don't always list the virus as the cause of a fatality, experts say. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Death certificates don’t accurately reflect the toll of the pandemic, experts say

The number of people who would have died from a COVID-19 infection… Continue reading

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. A single dose of Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine is barely enough to cover the average pinky nail but is made up of more than 280 components and requires at least three manufacturing plants to produce. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
From science to syringe: COVID-19 vaccines are miracles of science and supply chains

OTTAWA — A single dose of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine is barely enough… Continue reading

Most Read