French-Spanish nun killed in Central African Republic: Vatican

Map of Central African Republic locating Nola, where a 77-year-old nun was murdered, the Vatican said (AFP Photo/)

Vatican City (AFP) - A French-Spanish nun has been brutally murdered in a village in the Central African Republic where she taught sewing to young girls, the Vatican said Wednesday.

The 77-year old was found beheaded early Monday in the southwestern town of Nola according to the Vatican News website, while a bishop in CAR said her throat had been slit.

Pope Francis paid tribute to the nun on Wednesday, describing the murder of a woman "who gave her life for Jesus in the service of the poor" as "barbaric".

He called for those gathered in Saint Peter's Square for his weekly general audience to pray in silence for her.

"Her attackers broke into her room on the night between Sunday and Monday and took her to the centre she was running for the young girls, where they beheaded her," Vatican News said.

"According to a local member of parliament, the murder could be linked to trafficking in human organs," the site adds.

A spokesman for the diocese of Burgos in Spain told AFP a bishop in the Central African Republic had described the state of the nun's body.

"They cut her neck to the point of killing her, but they didn't cut off her head completely," he said.

The bishop said the motives for her murder were not known and "no terrorist organisation" has claimed responsibility for it, the spokesman added.

The bishop of the diocese of Berberati led the funeral for Ines Nieves Sancho on Tuesday, he said.

- 'Not take anything' -

The vice general of the diocese of Berberati, Isaie Koffia, told AFP that the nun was murdered on Sunday afternoon.

"Strangers entered the back gate and dragged her into the bush behind the house to slaughter her. They did not take anything at all, they just came to kill her," he added.

The nun belonged to the small congregation of the "Filles de Jesus", or "Daughters of Jesus", which is based in Massac-Seran in southwestern France.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez took to Twitter to express his "condolences and affection for Ines' family" as well as for a Spanish missionary, Fernando Hernandez, who was killed on Saturday in Burkina Faso.

Hernandez, a 60-year-old member of the Salesian congregation in Bobo-Dioulasso, "was attacked by knives by a former employee who was fired two months ago," according to the website of the Salesian congregation, salesianos.info.

He is the second Salesian to have been murdered in Burkina Faso this year. In February Antonio Cesar Fernandez, 72, was the victim of a "jihadist attack", according to the website.

CAR has been struggling to recover from the bloodletting that erupted when former president Francois Bozize, a Christian, was overthrown in 2013 by mainly-Muslim Seleka rebels.

Armed groups, typically claiming to defend an ethnic or religious group, control about 80 percent of the CAR, often fighting over access to the country's mineral wealth.

Thousands have lost their lives, nearly 650,000 have fled their homes and another 575,000 have left the country, according to UN figures as of December last year.