At least 13 people were burned alive in the Central African Republic at the weekend when they were rounded up by armed men and barricaded inside a home that was set alight, a police source said Tuesday.
The attack was carried out by men believed to be linked to former rebels of the mainly Muslim Seleka group and the Fulani ethnic group in the region of Kaga Bandoro in the country’s center, a source with the local police force said.
“One resident who tried to escape through a window was riddled with bullets. All were burnt to death in the house fire,” the source said, adding that “many other residents, who had managed to flee, arrived horrified at Kaga Bandoro, where they took refuge in St. Theresa cathedral.”
An official from the former Seleka rebels told Agence France Presse that Seleka rebels for a long time had not visited the region, instead blaming the violence on members of the Fulani tribe, whose animals were stolen by anti-Balaka militias, and villagers conducting reprisals.
Deeply impoverished Central Africa has been gripped by crisis since the mainly Muslim rebels of the Seleka alliance seized power in a March 2013 coup led by Michael Djotodia.
Splinter groups of Seleka rebels went rogue, embarking on a campaign of killing, raping and looting.
The abuses prompted members of the Christian majority to form vigilante “anti-balaka” groups, unleashing a wave of tit-for-tat killings that has left thousands dead and close to a million displaced.
Djotodia, now in exile in Benin, was replaced as president by interim leader Samba Panza in January after failing to stop the bloodshed.
The center and north of the country have seen a wave of violence in recent weeks as tens of thousands of Muslims have fled attacks by Christian militias in the capital Bangui.
Some 5,000 troops in the African MISCA force along with 2,000 French soldiers under a U.N. mandate have been deployed for months to help restore order and security in the country.
A small European Union force has also been operational since the end of April, but it will number some 800 in June.
The commander of European forces in CAR said on Tuesday that the situation in the capital Bangui has improved over the past two months, but remains tense in certain areas.
“We see encouraging signs of stabilization. Living conditions are improved in Bangui,” said General Philippe Ponties during a visit to the EU mission’s operational headquarters in Larissa in central Greece.