Close to 50 people have been killed after fresh fighting broke out in a small town in the Central African Republic. On Monday, the government signed its latest peace deal with 13 armed groups.
Eyewitnesses described seeing dozens of bodies lying in the streets of Bria, a town that lies in the center of the violence-ravaged country, after clashes broke out at dawn on Tuesday. The Reuters news agency put the death toll at 50, citing the town's mayor.
"I can say there are around 50 dead. There are 42 bodies that were taken to the hospital. There are also bodies in the neighborhoods that have not been picked up yet," Mayor Maurice Belikoussou said.
Agence France-Presse quoted a humanitarian source as saying that more than 40 people were killed. Both agencies said dozens more were injured.
No escape from violence
The clashes broke out near a camp housing people who had been forced to flee previous bouts of violence, according to the country's UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSCA.
The latest violence, between mostly-Muslim rebels and Christian anti-balaka fighters, came a day after the government of the Central African Republic signed a peace deal with 13 of 14 rival armed groups, following five days of negotiations in Rome.
The deal, brokered by a Roman Catholic peace group, called for an immediate ceasefire following more than five years of conflict, which began after a disputed election in 2011.
Monday's peace deal also granted political representation to each faction in exchange for an end to attacks and blockades.
Group leader killed
One of the groups, the Popular Front for the Rebirth of the Central African Republic (FPRC) admitted it had taken part in Tuesday's fighting.
"We signed the agreement, but we have to defend ourselves - we can't allow an attack to happen without reacting," said FPRC spokesman Djamil Babanani.
The latest fighting followed the killing of FPRC leader Hamad Issa in Bria on Saturday, several sources told AFP.
Last month, an upsurge in clashes between the rival factions left around 300 people dead, hundreds more wounded, and more than 10,000 others displaced.
Since 2013, thousands have died and a fifth of Central Africans have fled their homes after mainly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted President Francois Bozize, provoking a backlash from Christian anti-balaka militias.
Monday's peace deal is just one of a series of agreements aimed at putting an end to the conflict. But despite being lauded by the office of President Faustin-Archange Touadera, many of his political opponents doubt whether the ceasefire will hold.
UN peacekeeping missions in Africa
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Liberia: Mission accomplished
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Somalia: Future model AU mission?
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Author: Martina Schwikowski
mm/rc (AFP, Reuters)