Central African Republic citizens demonstrating against French imperialist intervention in their country. France and allied states are occupying the mineral-rich state., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Central African Republic: attack on presidential palace beaten back
Attackers who are believed to be part of a Christian militia repelled amid chaos and gruesome killings in the capital Bangui
Associated Press in Bangui
theguardian.com, Thursday 26 December 2013 20.31 EST
French soldiers stood guard around a burnt-out truck in the Gobongo district of Bangui on Thursday.
Assailants armed with heavy weapons were repelled after attacking the presidential palace and the residence of the Central African Republic's embattled leader late on Thursday, officials said.
Guy Simplice, spokesman for president Michel Djotodia, said by phone there had been heavy fighting near the seat of government, before the army was able to block the aggressors. Although the attackers could not immediately be identified, for weeks there have been rumours that a Christian militia, believed to be backed by the former president, who was ousted by Djotodia in a coup nine months ago, would attempt to seize back power.
The heavy arms fire could be heard from the five-star Hotel Ledger, near the centre of town, where international journalists are staying. A rocket came over the hotel's wall, landing on the grounds. As the shooting died down, helicopters could be heard flying overhead.
Earlier on Thursday, international forces were sent to pick up truckloads of decomposing bodies of Muslims whose remains had been left at a local mosque by their friends and relatives. They were too frightened to be seen burying them in a city where clashes along religious line have become a daily occurrence.
On Wednesday the African Union lost six Chadian peacekeepers, who were attacked in the Gobongo neighbourhood of the capital. Their destroyed car, with at least one calcified body still inside, had not been removed a day later, underscoring how dangerous this chaotic country has become, even for the international forces trying to pacify it, said African Union spokesman Eloi Yao.
As the African Union was struggling to secure that crime scene, they discovered another: close to the presidential palace, peacekeepers discovered a mass grave.
"We found around 20 bodies in a state of decomposition in an area that we call Panthers' Hill. The 20 were scattered in different graves in a small area. You found five bodies in one hole, three in another, two in yet another and so on," said Yao.
The country has been plunged into chaos as its Christian majority seeks revenge against the Muslim rebels who seized power in a coup in March. Both Christian and Muslim civilians are now armed, and the foreign troops brought in to try to rein in the violence have been sucked into the conflict, accused of taking sides.
The Chadians, part of an African Union force, are Muslim and are seen by the population as backing the Seleka rebels who toppled the president. But 1,600 French troops who were deployed in the first week of December are accused of backing the Christian majority, and their patrols have come under fire in Muslim neighbourhoods.
Caught in the middle are civilians, both Christian and Muslim, who are now bearing the brunt of collective punishment. Militiamen have been seen desecrating the corpses of their victims. An AP journalist saw Christian fighters known as anti-Balaka brandishing the severed penis of one dead man, and the hacked-off foot of another. Unclaimed bodies left to rot were found missing their genitals. Another was missing his nose.
The United Nations estimates that 639,000 people out of a population of 4.5 million have been forced to flee their homes. Altogether 2 million people need humanitarian aid.