International troops have clashed with ex-Seleka rebels in a fresh outbreak of violence
Bangui (Central African Republic) (AFP) - Suspected ex-rebels from the Central African Republic's Seleka movement massacred at least 34 people in several northern villages over the past three days, an officer in the African peacekeeping force MISCA told AFP on Saturday.
"Armed men identified by inhabitants as ex-Seleka and armed (ethnic) Fulanis" carried out the killings in the M'bres region from Wednesday through Friday, the officer said on condition of anonymity.
He said fleeing residents spoke of the attackers "firing on their victims at pointblank range and chasing them into the bush. Some of the victims died by hanging, others were beaten or tortured to death".
One resident who fled, Achille Ketegaza, confirmed that account to AFP, saying: "The attackers arrived by foot and on motorbikes. They fired pointblank at anybody they encountered.
"They said they were going to 'clean' eight villages between M'bres, Ndele and Bakala before September 15," when a UN force is to be deployed to the country, Ketegaza said, pleading for help from MISCA and French forces in the country.
- Fragile ceasefire -
The attacks are the latest breach of an extremely fragile ceasefire signed in late July in the Congo capital Brazzaville that sought to curb the ethnic and religious violence that has ravaged the Central African Republic over the past 18 months.
Transitional President Catherine Samba Panza last week appointed a new interim prime minister, Mahamat Kamoun, to lead a new broad-based government with the task of ending the chaos and overseeing a democratic transition in the deeply poor landlocked nation.
But Seleka, an alliance of mostly Muslim groups which controls parts of the north, has said it will not participate in the new government.
Riven by factions and rivalries, columns of armed Seleka vehicles continue to scour the vast forests and savannahs of the region. Some of these groups -- particularly those containing Chadian and Sudanese mercenaries -- are accused of brutal attacks on civilians, especially along the edge of their zone of control.
Seleka members have been present for several months in the M'bres region. In June, nine villages reported summary executions, robberies and torture at the hands of their militias.
The group triggered the cycle of violence in March 2013 when it seized power. Its leader, Michel Djotodia, was president for nine months before having to step down under strong international pressure after many Seleka fighters refused to disband and carried out atrocities against civilians.
A mostly Christian militia called the "anti-balaka" (anti-machete) rose to counter the rogue Seleka fighters, but they also committed serious crimes against civilians.
Some 2,000 French peacekeeping troops were deployed alongside an African Union military force of around 6,000 men from December last year.
Several incidents have threatened to derail the ceasefire signed on July 23. The most violent took place in the northern town of Batanfago, where French forces repelled a Seleka attack, leaving around 60 rebels dead.
Around 80 percent of the population is Christian, while 15 percent practice Islam, according to a US State Department survey in 2010.