At least 20 killed in Central Africa clashes: police

Picture released by Caritas International shows an anti-balaka militia member with his machete in Bossembele, Central African Republic on March 5, 2014 (AFP Photo/Matthieu Alexandre) (Caritas Internationalis/AFP/File)

Bangui (Central African Republic) (AFP) - At least 20 people have been killed and dozens injured in the latest inter-ethnic clashes in the Central African Republic, police said on Monday.

An official who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity said the violence broke out on Friday when mainly Christian anti-balaka militias launched an attack against rebels of the largely Muslim former Seleka alliance and Peul in the central region of Bambari.

"At least 12 people were killed in that attack," the official said.

He said ex-Seleka rebels and armed Peul herders -- also known as the Fulani -- launched a reprisal attack on Saturday on the village of Kouango, 90 kilometres (55 miles) south, killing at least eight people, injuring dozens and setting several homes on fire.

"Many residents fled to the bush and others sought refuge in the capital Bangui where hundreds of people from both regions have arrived in recent months," the official said.

Bambari, which lies near the dividing line separating the Christian south from the northern region controlled by ex-Seleka rebels, has been the scene of fierce clashes that have left more than 100 people dead and at least 200 injured since June.

Last week 28 people were killed in sectarian clashes in Mbres, just days after a reconciliation ceremony organised by the UN peacekeeping mission there.

The former French colony that is diamond-rich but dirt poor has suffered numerous coups and bouts of instability since independence in 1960, but the March 2013 toppling of Francois Bozize's regime by the Seleka rebel coalition triggered the worst upheaval to date.

Relentless attacks by the mainly Muslim rebels on the majority Christian population spurred the formation of vigilante groups, who in turn began exacting revenge on Muslim civilians, driving them out of most parts of the country.

Several thousand people were killed in the tit-for-tat attacks, which plunged the population of 4.8 million into an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.