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Muslims protest French operations in C. Africa
by Staff Writers
Bangui, Central African Republic (AFP) Dec 22, 2013

Heavy gunfire at C.Africa capital army base: French military source
Bangui, Central African Republic (AFP) Dec 20, 2013 - Heavy gunfire was heard for several hours late Thursday at a military base near the capital of strife-torn Central African Republic, a French military source told AFP.

"There was automatic gunfire, with heavy artillery, during several hours at the army base at the airport," the source said on condition of anonymity. "It's confusing, it happened at night. For the moment, we don't know what happened."

The military base at the Mpoko airport in the north of Bangui hosts French and African Union troops that have been sent to the country under a UN mandate to try and stop the chaos in the notoriously unstable country.

Thursday's gunfire left some AU troops wounded, a source with the force told AFP, without providing further details. No French soldiers were reported wounded.

The Central African Republic spiralled into chaos after a March coup in which the mainly Muslim Seleka rebel group overthrew president Francois Bozize.

Rebel leader Michel Djotodia was installed as the first Muslim leader of the majority Christian nation and disbanded the Seleka, but many rebels went rogue, spreading terror which government forces could not stop.

Months of brutal massacres, rapes and looting have followed, with locals forming Christian vigilante groups in response to the atrocities.

Eventually, the AU force in CAR is due to be 6,000 strong at full strength, working alongside some 1,600 French troops.

Several thousand Muslim supporters of the Central African Republic's former rebel group Seleka protested Sunday against French troops conducting a disarmament operation.

The demonstration in the capital Bangui marked the most significant show of hostility towards France since it deployed troops on December 5 to end the chaos that followed Seleka's coup in March.

The protest swelled after some Muslim residents said three ex-Seleka fighters were killed in clashes with French troops. French officials have not confirmed that information.

An AFP journalist said the demonstrators marched from the city centre to the Muslim neighbourhood of PK5 before dispersing peacefully.

France has deployed 1,600 soldiers to its former colony to bolster an African force MISCA, which had been struggling to cope with an outbreak of Christian-Muslim violence.

Reports of the three fighters' death Sunday had sparked a smaller, earlier protest which soldiers from MISCA's Congolese contingent broke up with tear gas, witnesses said.

The country's new leader, Michel Djotodia, has disbanded the Seleka rebel coalition that brought him to power nine months ago but some members have gone rogue.

Months of killing, raping and pillaging had caused growing international concern of a major humanitarian crisis and prompted Christians to form vigilantes.

The French intervention has been largely welcomed by the Christian majority but many Muslims argue operations against the remnants of Seleka have left them exposed to reprisals.

Vigilante groups and mobs have attacked Muslim residents and ransacked Muslim-owned shops in recent days, despite efforts by political and religious leaders to defuse sectarian tensions.

Djotodia, Central Africa's first Muslim leader, urged all armed groups to lay down their arms and avert an escalation.

"I reiterate my entire availability to discuss with all those who have taken up arms, rightly or wrongly, so that we will finally all be disarmed without exception," he said.

Djotodia, who is supposed to step aside at the end of next year following elections, said: "Let us now transform our machetes, guns and other arms into ballots."


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