Clashes in C. African capital leave at least 11 dead

Central African Republic (AFP Photo/Gillian HANDYSIDE)

Bangui (Central African Republic) (AFP) - At least 11 people were killed in fighting between militiamen and traders in a restive district of Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, two security officials and an imam said Thursday.

Between 11 and 14 people died after clashes erupted late Wednesday, the security sources said, while the imam, Awad Al Karim, said "16 bodies" had been brought to the local Ali Babolo mosque.

The fighting began after traders in a mainly Muslim district called PK5 took up arms to oppose taxes levied by militia groups, the imam said.

Bursts of automatic fire and explosions were heard on Wednesday evening and on Thursday morning, according to an AFP journalist who was in a neighbouring district.

Bili Aminou Alao, spokesman for the UN peacekeeping force MINUSCA, said the fighting was continuing.

"We have sent a rapid response force to the area. Part of the market and some vehicles have been burned," he said.

"Between 40 and 50 shops have been burned down, as well as four or five houses," said Patrick Bidilou Niabode, head of the CAR's civil protection service.

Voluntary firefighters put out two fires which had been spreading in the market but were unable to tackle a blaze at two houses because of heavy gunfire, he added.

The CAR is one of the world's poorest and most volatile countries.

It has been gripped by sporadic violence since 2014, after its then-president, Francois Bozize, was ousted in a coup.

Fierce fighting erupted between predominantly Christian and Muslim militia, prompting the intervention of former colonial power France, under a UN mandate.

Attempts to broker a lasting peace have repeatedly broken down and most the country lies in the hands of armed groups.

PK5 is a powderkeg district. It became a haven for many Bangui Muslims at the peak of the Christian-Muslim clashes.