BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — The mostly Muslim fighters who control Central African Republic patrolled neighborhoods across its capital on Sunday despite an order to return to their barracks, reflecting the sectarian tensions still rippling across the impoverished nation.
Aid officials reported Sunday that the fighters had abducted at least nine wounded men from a hospital in Bangui last week and then killed them, all part of the spasm of violence that has engulfed the capital.
French forces are leading a U.N.-sanctioned intervention launched Thursday to stem violence that the French foreign minister said Sunday had killed at least 394 people in the past few days.
President Michel Djotodia has formally dissolved the Seleka rebel alliance that brought him to power in a March coup that overthrew the long-serving, Christian-backed president. They now consider themselves the national army. As scores of French troops arrived over recent days to help secure the beleaguered capital, Djotodia had urged the former Seleka rebels to get off the streets.
Yet despite the order, the ex-rebels' spray-painted pickup trucks bounced Sunday over rutted roads around Bangui, particularly in several predominantly Muslim neighborhoods. Half a dozen ex-Seleka fighters sat near a major hospital in the capital Sunday with a pickup truck full of rocket-propelled grenades.
Meanwhile, aid officials who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of recriminations, told The Associated Press that the ex-Seleka fighters had stormed Amite Hospital on Thursday and abducted at least nine patients by gunpoint in front of horrified medical staff. The bodies of 11 young men were later found just outside the hospital, officials said.
The victims were suspected of being members of a Christian militia that attacked the capital on Thursday. That attack unleashed retaliatory violence across the city, and the local Red Cross said nearly 400 bodies had been collected as of late Saturday.
Dozens of unclaimed corpses lay under white plastic sheeting in a cement courtyard outside the hospital. The buzz of flies was deafening and the stench of death overwhelming to passers-by. Officials expected the death toll to rise further.
"We're sending out five more teams today, as we are still finding bodies several days later," said Jean-Moise Modessi-Waguedo, head of emergency operations for the local Red Cross. He spoke through a mask covering his face.
French forces fanned out across Bangui on Sunday and also had made their way north to the highly volatile town of Bossangoa, where some 40,000 Christians are seeking refuge at a Catholic mission and more than 7,000 Muslims have also fled their homes amid the rising sectarian violence. Thousands of locals have also fled to the Bangui airport to seek the protection of French soldiers.
French President Francois Hollande announced Saturday that France was raising its Central African Republic deployment to 1,600 troops — 400 more than first announced for the mission in its former colony.
Later, his office said African Union nations also had agreed to increase their total deployment to 6,000 troops for the Central African nation — up from about 2,500 now, and nearly double the projected rollout of 3,600 by year's end.