The UN mission MINUSCA said it stepped up patrols after the fighting erupted in Bangui’s mainly Muslim PK5 district — an area that has become a flashpoint in a country weakened by sectarian violence and dogged by militia rule.
Security sources in PK5 said a shootout started after men in a militia group which is led by an individual calling himself Force rammed through a roadblock.
Hospital sources said at least 16 people died, including a priest and a child, while 96 people were being treated for wounds.
The priest was named as Toungoumale Baba, who died in the nearby district of Fatima, a church source said earlier. There were no immediate details about the circumstances of his death.
As hostile crowds gathered at various points in the city, UN mission MINUSCA said it sent patrols “to secure the [PK5] zone and other key points” in Bangui.
It also sent a patrol to the district of Lakouanga, where a mosque was set on fire by demonstrators, MINUSCA spokesman Vladimir Monteiro told AFP.
The medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) issued a statement saying “an angry crowd gathered in front of the gates” at Sica hospital.
It appealed for “hospitals to be respected,” regardless of individual religious or politcal affiliations.
– Bloodied corpses –
The incident came after hours-long clashes in PK5 on April 10 killed 28 people, including a UN peacekeeper, and left more than 100 wounded.
According to MINUSCA, the fighting began when a joint patrol of Rwandan UN troops and the Central African army was attacked on the district’s outskirts as they pursued a security sweep against militia groups.
In a dramatic protest, local people brought in 17 bloodied corpses with bullet wounds and laid them in front of the UN base in the centre of Bangui.
They said those who died were simply unarmed civilians — a version contested by MINUSCA, which is struggling to overcome accusations of inaction and sexual abuse by some of its troops in the past.
One of the world’s poorest and most unstable countries, the CAR spiralled into bloodshed after longtime leader Francois Bozize was overthrown in 2013 by a mainly Muslim rebel alliance called the Seleka.
France intervened militarily from 2013 to 2016 to push out the Seleka, winding down the operation after Bozize’s successor, Faustin-Archange Touadera, was elected president.
But despite UN backing, Touadera can only claim to control a fraction of the country.
The rest is in the sway of ex-rebels and vigilante militias, many of them claiming to act in the name of the Muslim or Christian community.
Tensions within the PK5 district, a major economic hub, have been running high for months, stoked by resentment among traders over demands to pay protection money to so-called self-defence groups.