Fighting between rival factions kills 17 in Central Africa

A convoy of French troops, part of the Sangaris forces, patrol in Bambari, Central African Republic, on April 16, 2014
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A convoy of French troops, part of the Sangaris forces, patrol in Bambari, Central African Republic, on April 16, 2014 (AFP Photo/Miguel Medina)

Bangui (Central African Republic) (AFP) - At least 17 people were killed in fighting between rival factions of the former rebel movement Seleka in the Central African Republic, an officer in the African peacekeeping force there said Tuesday.

The dead were all ex-rebels who battled on Monday in the heart of the central town of Bambari, where the Seleka forces set up their headquarters in May, said the officer in the MISCA force deployed by the African Union, asking not to be named.

"One side was the group of General Joseph Zoundeko, head of the Seleka general staff in Bambari, and the other is that of General Ali Djarras, made up of armed ethnic Peuls (Fulani)" active in the region," he added.

The death toll was provisional, the officer said, "in light of the heaviness of the fighting and the weapons used. Some used rocket-launchers."

The Seleka coalition, drawn mainly from the Muslim minority, took power in the poor and highly unstable country for 10 months in March 2013 after a coup, but its forces were driven out of the capital Bangui last January by French military intervention alongside MISCA troops.

A transitional president, Catherine Samba Panza, took office that same month, and she has overseen the signing of a ceasefire pact between Seleka forces and the largely Christian "anti-balaka" militias that emerged to wreak vengeance against Muslims for atrocities by ex-rebels.

But parts of the increasingly fractured Seleka alliance refuse to accept either the ceasefire or a new transitional government formed last week. Heavy fighting among former allies in the ex-rebel coalition has broken out several times.

One source close to the Seleka said that the latest clashes "arose from a degree of tension related to the distribution of income from mobile telephone companies", in which some former rebels felt denied their share, rather than political motives.

The MISCA officer said that the latest fighting "plunged Bambari back into fear and worry", adding that "many residents who were trying to leave their place of shelter went back to displaced people's camps."

Almost 30,000 people are internally displaced in Bambari, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.