Prisoners escape jail as violence hits Central African Republic

  • Bangui, Reuters
  • Updated: Sep 29, 2015 03:23 IST
A wounded man is carried into the General Hospital in Bangui after unknown assailants opened fire in the PK5 district, a neighbourhood with a majority of Muslim residents. (AFP)

Hundreds of prisoners escaped from the main jail in Central African Republic’s capital on Monday, said a senior security source in a city where around 30 people have been killed over three days in the worst violence this year.

“There is no one in the prison,” said a senior gendarmerie source, referring to the Ngaraba jail.

Earlier, UN peacekeepers fired warning shots to disperse thousands of protesters calling for the rearming of the army and at least one person was killed.

Dozens have been injured in clashes since Saturday when the murder of a Muslim man sparked reprisals by Muslims on a Christian neighbourhood and attacks by armed gangs on civilians in a city patrolled by French and UN troops.

Clashes took place despite an overnight curfew and gunshots were heard on Monday. Few ventured out and anti-balaka Christian militia manned checkpoints.

Thousands marched to within 100 metres (300 ft) of the presidential palace to call for a bigger role for the army.

The army was sidelined when mostly Muslim northern rebels, known as Seleka, seized power in 2013. A UN-backed interim government is yet to rearm the army after officers were linked to the anti-balaka Christian militia that conducted reprisals against Muslims.

The violence in the landlocked country comes as interim President Catherine Samba-Panza is at the U.N. General Assembly, sparking fears of an attempt to overturn her government.

Her absence and that of other leaders and senior U.N. officials with the MINUSCA peacekeeping force is one reason why the violence erupted, said a senior Western diplomat, adding that UN forces had not reacted quickly enough.

The US State Department condemned the violence in a statement that expressed support for Samba-Panza and her transitional government.

Overnight, the police headquarters was attacked by the anti-balaka and two gendarmes were injured, the police deputy director said.

UN interim humanitarian coordinator Marc Vandenberghe said he was “extremely worried” by the loss of life.

A Reuters journalist saw a young man’s corpse in the street on Monday. Witnesses said he was killed by anti-balaka forces.

Red Cross officials say a death toll was hard to establish as they have been prevented from entering neighbourhoods by protesters and armed groups.

Private residences and offices for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and a medical charity were pillaged Sunday afternoon, according to a Reuters witness.

Unicef said children were targeted, citing the murders of three boys aged 16 and 17, including one who was decapitated.

The country erupted in violence after Seleka rebels seized power in the majority-Christian country in 2013, killing thousands and leaving hundreds of thousands still displaced.

It has been led by a transitional government since January 2014, and was expected to vote in presidential polls scheduled for Oct. 18 but now widely expected to be postponed.

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