Gun battles in Central African Republic create fresh panic

Gun battles between rival militias in the Central African Republic capital Bangui on Wednesday killed one person and sent hundreds fleeing to a makeshift camp near the airport.

Machine gun fire could be heard near the camp as fresh clashes broke out between Christian militias and the Muslim former rebels who overthrew the president in a March coup, witnesses said.

Three wounded children and 13 adults were taken to an improvised hospital in the camp run by Doctors without Borders (MSF) in the space of a single hour, and one later died.

"It doesn't stop. Only yesterday we saw a six-month-old baby who died after being hit by a stray bullet," one MSF worker told AFP.

Around 100 000 people displaced by weeks of violence have sought refuge near the main French army base by Bangui airport. The tit-for-tat violence by Christian vigilantes and rebels from the Seleka coalition that helped Michel Djotodia become the country's first Muslim head of state is believed to have killed more than 1 000 people last month.

The UN children's agency on Monday warned about "unprecedented" levels of violence against youngsters in the country, saying at least two children had been beheaded.

The latest violence came ahead of a visit by French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to the Central African Republic (CAR), where 1 600 French troops and around 4 000 African peacekeepers are attempting to curb escalating religious strife.

The United Nations has said it will speed up planning for a possible UN peacekeeping force to the CAR following a plea from French President François​ Hollande for the world body to play a bigger role in the troubled country.

Weeks of violence in the CAR have pitted majority Christians against Muslims, who make up about one-fifth of the population The European Union said it would send 20 000 tarpaulins to the stricken country to help those find shelter who have been displaced by the violence. – Sapa-AFP

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