Central African Republic attack kills Muslim ex-leader
Amnesty International urges peacekeepers to step up efforts to secure anarchic countryside
Christian militiamen killed a prominent Muslim former government minister who supported last year's rebellion, officials said, raising the spectre of further sectarian bloodshed as tensions deepened Friday.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International reported that more than 50 Muslims had been killed in two attacks earlier this month in villages northwest of Bangui.
More than 1,000 people died during several days of sectarian fighting in December, and UN officials have warned the anarchy could escalate into genocide. Hundreds more have been slain in recent weeks by marauding gangs wielding machetes, clubs and other weapons.
Dr. Joseph Kalite, a former health minister who had supported coup leader Michel Djotodia, was assassinated on Friday, according to El-Hadj Wananga Kabara, an official at the Central Mosque in Bangui.
Witnesses said Kalite died from machete wounds after his car was attacked by Christian fighters.
News of Kalite's death sent waves of fresh fear through Bangui's Muslim community and prompted several religious authorities to condemn international peacekeeping forces for failing to sufficiently protect Muslims.
"The imams announce that, starting today, they will let their followers decide themselves which reactions they deem most appropriate to this new provocation," said Ahmadou Tidjani Moussa Naibi, the imam at Central Mosque.
Djotodia and the mostly Muslim rebels who overthrew the government last year became deeply despised by the Christian majority because of killings and other atrocities they committed. For nearly 10 months the rebels known as Seleka targeted and tortured civilians, in some cases tying them together and throwing them off bridges to drown.
In response, Christian fighters have lynched scores of Muslims in the streets of Bangui, sometimes stoning victims to death and then mutilating their bodies. Muslim civilians, who have fled by the tens of thousands, insist they are not to blame for the rebellion aided by foreign fighters from Chad and Sudan. Djotodia stepped aside two weeks ago, and interim President Catherine Samba-Panza is now tasked with organizing elections later this year.
Some 4,600 African peacekeepers are in Central African Republic, but 3,200 of them remain inside the capital. France also has sent 1,600 troops though few have reached the hot spots farther north.
Amnesty International called for the peacekeepers to deploy more robustly in the countryside to prevent revenge attacks.
"The Christian community has suffered enormously over the past year," said Joanne Mariner, Amnesty International's senior crisis adviser in Bangui. "The desire for revenge is palpable in CAR. Given how predictable such killings are, more robust peacekeeping steps should be taken to prevent them."
The London-based organization said that in one of the attacks on Jan. 14, Christian militiamen stopped a truck that included Muslims fleeing the country and demanded they get out of the vehicle.
One mother managed to save her seven-month-old baby's life by handing the child to a Christian woman beside her, whispering her family's name before exiting the vehicle to face death, Amnesty International said. The infant was later reunited with relatives. The mother was among eight killed by the Christian fighters.