BANGUI, Central African Republic — Wielding rifles and machetes, armed Christian fighters who support the Central African Republic’s exiled president assaulted the capital at dawn yesterday leaving nearly 100 people dead. Shrouded bodies were lined up in a mosque as dozens of wounded lay on blood-stained hospital floors.
The ambush on Muslim neighborhoods of Bangui came as the United Nations voted to send a contingent of French troops to try to stabilize the country, and French President Francois Hollande announced plans to double the force. The daylong gunbattle touched even the most protected parts of the capital, including the residence of the prime minister, underscoring the volatile mix of arms and ideology facing the arriving French force.
Scores died in yesterday’s attack, including 48 people whose bodies were laid out at a mosque in a northern suburb of Bangui. Separately, a Doctors Without Borders spokeswoman, Amelie Ketoff, said another 50 deaths had been confirmed, bringing the toll to 98.
Some died of bullet wounds, others from what appeared to be machete blows using a weapon known in the local language as a “balaka.” The Christian militia, whose members are believed to have led the attack yesterday, call themselves the “anti-balaka,” reminiscent of the horrific violence once seen in Rwanda.
Rebel leader-turned-president Michel Djotodia appealed for calm, even as his residence was looted and vandalized by the fighters. He announced a dusk-to-dawn curfew in a bid to stem the threat of retaliatory violence against Christians, following the early morning attack on Muslim neighborhoods.
“This morning the enemies of Central African Republic wanted to destabilize the country but they have failed,” Djotodia announced in a speech broadcast in the Sango language on state radio.
France already has hundreds of soldiers in Bangui, and an armored personnel carrier and other military vehicles patrolled the streets. The roads were otherwise bare except for the brightly painted pickup trucks driven by the ex-rebels who run the government.