BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — Clashes between armed civilians and the rebels who now control Central African Republic have left at least 23 people dead in a remote village in the country's northwest, a top military official said Tuesday.
Already the waves of attacks on villages in Ouham province have forced more than 170,000 people to flee their homes, according to the U.N. humanitarian agency. Fresh violence erupted early Tuesday in the town of Gaga, about 120 miles (200 kilometers) northwest of the capital, Army Gen. Mahamat Bahar said.
It was not immediately possible to independently corroborate the military's death toll of 23 in the remote and instable area, though other witnesses said at least twice that many people had died. Aurelio Gazzera, a Catholic priest who works in the country's northwest, said the village of Gaga had first come under attack from apparent supporters of ousted President Francois Bozize.
Rebels from the alliance known as Seleka that overthrew Bozize in March then retaliated, he said, citing witnesses who had reached a nearby town. The Seleka forces involved in the ensuing violence included fighters from neighboring Sudan, local residents said.
"A witness described having seen at least 40 people killed by the Seleka fighters who had begun searching for the men in town," he said, noting that that toll did not include Seleka casualties. Central African Republic was one of the poorest and most unstable countries on the continent even before thousands of armed rebels descended on the capital in March and forced the president of a decade into exile. In the months since they have seized power, the country has devolved into a state of near-anarchy, and human rights groups have accused the rebel fighters of scores of atrocities, including committing massacres against civilians in the troubled northwest.
The region is the birthplace of Bozize, the ousted president, and the new group in power accuses his supporters of fomenting unrest. Others, though, say the armed civilians are self-defense groups that have emerged in the wake of Seleka attacks on villages.
Rebel leader-turned-president Michel Djotodia formally disbanded the rebel alliance known as Seleka in mid-September in what was seen as a move to separate his government from the forces in the field identified as Seleka who were committing crimes.
Diplomats at the United Nations are trying to increase security in Central African Republic amid the growing reports of attacks and hope for a Security Council vote Thursday on a resolution. The U.N. diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because consultations have been private, said the draft resolution expresses the council's intention to consider options to support an African Union peacekeeping force, expected to eventually include up to 3,500 troops.
It asks Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to submit detailed options within 30 days of the resolution's adoption, including the possibility of transforming the AU force into a U.N. peacekeeping force, the diplomats said.
Larson reported from Dakar, Senegal. Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.