Hundreds of civilians are seeking refuge inside a mosque in Bangassou, Central African Republic amid ongoing attacks by Christian militias that have killed around 30 people, Reuters reports.
The attacks throughout the weekend in the border-town of Bangassou have involved hundreds of fighters with heavy weaponry and appear to be aimed at Muslims.
It is a sign that the conflict is worsening, as the U.N. base there has also been targeted. Six U.N. peacekeepers have also been killed amid the conflict, and extra troops have been deployed in anticipation of further attacks.
Troops had succeeded in partly securing the town by dusk, Herve Verhoosel, spokesman for the U.N. mission (MINUSCA), told Reuters.
“The situation is extremely deplorable and we are doing everything to rapidly retake control of Bangassou,” MINUSCA chief Parfait Onanga-Anyanga said.
Asked about the civilian death toll, Onanga-Anyanga added: “It is clear that we are looking at numbers that could easily reach 20 to 30.”
Many of the fighters are child soldiers who appeared to be under the influence of drugs, he added.
Local Red Cross President Pastor Antoine Mbao Bogo said gunfire continued to ring out from the town on Sunday, blocking attempts by his organisation and others to reach the wounded and recover the dead.
In recent months, roaming militias spurred by ethnic and religious rivalries have stepped up violence despite pledges to take part in a government-led disarmament program.
Central African Republic has been plagued by inter-religious violence since 2013 when mainly Muslim Seleka fighters seized power and ousted then-President Francois Bozize, prompting reprisal killings from anti-balaka militias drawn from the Christian minority.
More than 400,000 people in the former French colony are displaced internally and 2.2 million, or nearly half the population, are reliant on aid.