BANGUI, Central African Republic – An African Union peacekeeper from the Republic of Congo was killed over the weekend in Central African Republic by a Christian militia, underscoring the growing peril that international forces are facing in the troubled nation.
The Congolese soldier was stationed in the remote town of Bossangoa, which has been at the epicenter of the fighting between the country's Muslim minority, whose members grabbed power in a coup nine months ago, and the nation's Christian majority. He was killed by the anti-balaka, a Christian militia, the official said on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak on the matter.
"His body was brought back to Brazzaville an hour ago," said the official, who accompanied the soldier's remains to the capital of the Republic of Congo late Monday. "He was killed last night in Bossangoa by the anti-balaka, with an unprecedented level of barbarity. They lacerated him, and hacked his head."
French and African forces deployed to Central African Republic earlier this month to try to bring order to a nation described by some as being on the verge of genocide. Initially, the foreign forces were cheered by the population, hundreds of whom lined the streets to welcome arriving brigades.
But within weeks, the mood has changed and the international forces are now being seen as having taken sides in the conflict. French troops have come under attack from the Seleka rebels, the Muslim fighters who overthrew the country's Christian president in March. That's because the French are seen as being against the Muslim interim president, Michel Djotodia.
Similarly, the African peacekeepers have come under attack from Christian fighters. They see the Chadian contingent, which is part of the African Union-led force, as allied with the country's Muslims.
The AU-led force, known as MISCA, was created under a U.N, Security Council mandate.
Also on Monday in Central African Republic's capital, a Muslim man and his son were lynched by an angry Christian mob near the airport.
Tony Ferrera, who is among the 40,000 refugees seeking shelter at the international airport, said Christians there had organized a march to demand the departure of the Muslim president. Ferrera said that as the Christian crowd was marching, a Muslim family came from the opposite direction. When the man brandished a gun and began shooting in the air, the mob pounced on him, accusing him of being a Seleka rebel. Both the man and his son were lynched.
His wife was able to run away, Ferrera said.
In Paris, French military spokesman Col. Gilles Jaron told The Associated Press, that French forces had come under attack in recent days.
"We are seeing a very clear rise in tension," he said. "We are acting since we did in the beginning — in total Impartiality."
In New York, Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who had just returned from Central African Republic, urged the world to pay attention to the country, where "terrible atrocities are occurring."
She recalled meeting a woman whose husband was stabbed in front of her and then doused in flames.
"Part of what those who have survived violence of this nature are crying out for is justice," Power said. "And one of the worries that we came away from the Central African Republic with was that those who are not seeing justice done are increasingly tempted to take matters into their own hands, and that you're seeing a cycle of retribution and violence which is very, very long."
Louis Okamba contributed to this report from Brazzaville, Central African Republic. Associated Press writers Angela Charlton in Paris, Rukmini Callimachi in Dakar, Senegal, and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations also contributed to this report.