BANGUI (Reuters) - Rebels armed with guns and knives killed 34 people in Central African Republic, hanging some civilians and slitting others’ throats in a series of attacks this week, officials said.
Fighters from the Seleka insurgent group, sometimes backed by herdsmen, raided small central settlements, said authorities, more than a year after a coup plunged the impoverished country into sectarian violence.
Seleka, a coalition of mostly Muslim fighters which seized power in March 2013 then later handed over to an interim government under international pressure, said it would look into the accusations. Spokesman Ahmat Nejad said anyone found guilty should be punished.
“Fighters from Seleka and some Fulani shot the victims at point blank range, slit their throats or hung them up by ropes,” the mayor of Mbres, Bienvenue Sarapata, told Reuters on Saturday.
“Three young people were hanged on Wednesday afternoon. Other villagers were assassinated in the town centre,” he said, adding that he had fled to the nearby town of Kaga-Bandora with hundreds of others.
The mayor’s first counsellor Christine Ouadjapou said 34 people had killed in the attack on Mbres and surrounding villages from August 10-15.
Rights groups accused Seleka of widespread killings and other abuses after it took power.
Christian “anti-balaka” militias took up arms in response to the violence, carrying out their own wave of sectarian killings, said activists, and pushing the rebels and thousands of Muslims northwards.
The latest attacks were reported in a remote strip of territory about 350 km (220 miles) north of Bangui, sandwiched between the Muslim-dominated north and the Christian south.
In an apparent sign of the strain of the continuing violence on the country’s interim government, President Catherine Samba Panza’s cabinet stepped down on August 5.
The new prime minister Mahamat Kamoun, a Muslim, took office on August 14 and is seeking to form a government. Seleka rebels say they will not take part in any national unity government as they were not consulted about the choice of prime minister.
The United Nations is due to deploy a 12,000-strong peacekeeping mission in September, built on 6,000 African troops already on the ground.
France also deployed about 2,000 soldiers to its former colony in December as sectarian violence intensified.
Central African Republic has reserves of gold, diamonds, uranium but has been rocked by a series of coups and clashes since its independence in 1960.
It neighbours some of the continent’s least stable countries including South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo.