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C.Africa violence worsens

Mark Caldwell (AFP, Reuters, AP)September 29, 2015

Catherine Samba-Panza, interim president of Central African Republic, has left the UN General Assembly in New York and returned home as her country faces its worst outburst of violence this year.

Zentralafrikanische Republik Proteste und Gewalt in Bangui
Image: picture-alliance/AA/H.C. Serefio

"I appeal to you, my compatriots, for calm," Catherine Samba-Panza, interim president of Central African Republic, said in a message broadcast on national radio in CAR after announcing her early return from the UN General Assembly in New York.

The scale of the crisis that confronted her on arrival back in CAR was underlined when the UN revealed that at least 36 people had been killed and nearly 30,000 forced to flee their homes in the last three days. "We fear that the violence that we're seeing in Bangui is a return to the dark days of late 2013 and 2014, when thousands were killed and tens of thousands had to flee their homes," UN refugee agency spokesman Leo Dobbs said.

In a communiqué released on Tuesday (29.09.2015), Samba-Panza said she would not be intimidated by the violence. She called on people to show restraint and called on international forces in the country to protect civilians and help track down instigators of the violence.

Main streets in Bangui, capital of Central African Republic, have been closed off by barricades. They were deserted on Tuesday as people stayed at home for fear of fresh fighting.

Catherine Samba-Panza 2014 Präsident Zentralafrikanische Republik
CAR's interim leader Catherine Samba-Panza urged Central Africans to stay calm and return to their homesImage: J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

Shooting erupted overnight as security forces tried to stop looters from attacking the premises of several humanitarian organizations.

Peacekeepers deny allegations

Two unnamed sources quoted by the news agency AFP said violence broke out on Monday after UN peacekeepers opened fire as several hundred protestors were heading for the seat of the interim presidency.

One source said three people were killed and seven injured by UN peacekeepers. A teenager was also killed by a stray bullet when shooting broke out elsewhere in the city after the protest broke up.

The UN's peacekeeping force in CAR, MINUSCA, denied that they had opened fire on the population. But they pledged to look into the allegations.

The protestors were demanding the resignation of Samba-Panza after the deaths of at least 20 people in Bangui at the weekend.

Zentralafrikanische Republik UN Friedenstruppe in Bangui
Demonstrators gather in Bangui on Monday to demand the resignation of interim president Catherine Samba-PanzaImage: picture-alliance/AA/H.C. Serefio

That spate of violence broke out on Saturday after claims that a motorcycle-taxi driver was murdered in the capital's Muslim-majority PK-5 neighborhood. Around a hundred were injured when the unrest spread to other districts.

PK-5 was the site of killings between Christians and Muslims in late 2013 and early 2014. It remains the last bastion for Muslims driven from other districts by Christian anti-balaka, or anti-machete, militias.

One diplomat said Samba-Panza's absence - and that of other leaders and senior UN officials with MINUSCA - was one reason why the violence erupted, adding that UN forces had not reacted fast enough.

Security before reconciliation

On Monday evening, hundreds of prisoners escaped from the main Ngaragba jail, most of them anti-balaka-fighters.

"There is no one in the prison," a senior gendarmerie source told Reuters.

CAR plunged into bloodshed more than two years ago after a coup ousted longtime leader Francois Bozize. The country has since remained prey to violence between the mostly Muslim Seleka fighters and the Christian anti-balaka militias.

Zentralafrikanische Republik Bangui Minusca UN-Truppen
There are some 10,000 UN and around 1,000 French peacekeepers in CARImage: picture-alliance/AA/

"If you don't have any security you can't have any reconciliation so I think the number one measure is for the UN peacekeepers to step up and show that are able to protect the communities effectively," Thibaud Lesueur from the International Crisis Group in Nairobi, Kenya told DW's AfricaLink radio show.

Rights group Amnesty International (AI) said the new wave of violence highlighted the fragility of the reconciliation process as well as the urgent need for enhanced protection of civilians and disarmament in CAR.

Alioune Tine, AI's regional director for West and Central Africa said the disarmament of all civilians and armed groups "needs to be speeded up."

Presidential and legislative elections are due to be held by the end of the year, but they have already been pushed back several times.