Homes torched as C.Africa violence flares ahead of pope visit

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Officers from the UN mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) patrol a market in Bangui on September 14, 2015 as patrol vehicles from the French Operation Sangaris forces drive past

Officers from the UN mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) patrol a market in Bangui on September 14, 2015 as patrol vehicles from the French Operation Sangaris forces drive past (AFP Photo/Edouard Dropsy)

Bangui (Central African Republic) (AFP) - More than 100 homes were torched and several people slaughtered as sectarian violence flared in the Central African Republic capital this weekend ahead of a visit by Pope Francis late this month.

Military sources told AFP on Monday that "several people whose bodies were abandoned" had been shot dead or had their throats slit in a fresh outbreak of violence Sunday between Muslim and Christian militias.

Fighting broke out days ago and though it appeared to have subsided Monday, shots could be heard in the PK5 district housing Muslims under siege from Christian militias.

"More than 100 homes (in other areas) ... were torched by Muslims from PK5, and houses systematically looted," said the source.

"Thousands of residents have fled these areas to seek shelter with other displaced people or are on the road," he added.

One of the poorest and most unstable countries in Africa, the landlocked former French colony plunged into chaos after president Francois Bozize was ousted in a coup in March 2013.

The mainly Muslim Seleka rebels behind the coup went on a bloody rampage that triggered the emergence of equally dangerous anti-balaka (anti-machete) militias in mostly Christian communities.

On Monday, city residents, rights groups and politicians urged the 10,000-strong MINUSCA force of French and UN peacekeepers to intervene.

"We ask them, as well as the transition authorities, to stop these revenge attacks against people, " said Joseph Bendounga of the Democratic Movement for Central Africa's Renaissance (MDREC).

"The international forces are responsible for protecting the people. We ask them to take on their responsibility to avoid a bloodbath," said Mathias Bathelemy Morouba of the Human Rights Observatory.

In the Vatican City on Monday, officials said the pope's visit to the violence-hit nation remains "on the programme", but the trip would have to be cancelled if fighting in the capital intensifies.

The pope is expected there from November 28 to 29 during a much-anticipated visit to Africa which will also see him travel to Kenya and Uganda.

But Francis hinted this weekend that part of the journey may have to be scrapped, saying he "hoped" to visit CAR despite violence in the capital. The trip had previously been definite.

The 78-year-old Argentine is scheduled to visit a mosque in one of the most dangerous areas of the city, where vigilantes mainly drawn from the Christian majority emerged to avenge atrocities by Muslim ex-rebels who had seized power for 10 months in 2013.

One in 10 Central Africans -- 460,000 people -- have sought refuge outside the country, mainly in Cameroon, Chad, DR Congo and Congo, since 2013.