BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — The corpses of 17 civilians were laid out in front of the United Nations peacekeeping offices in Central African Republic’s capital Wednesday in a furious protest over a new operation against armed groups that has targeted a largely Muslim neighborhood.
The protest came as U.N. peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix was visiting the deeply impoverished nation, which has faced deadly interreligious and intercommunal fighting since 2013. The Red Cross quickly removed the bodies, which had been wrapped in sheets or plastic and laid out on the bare ground. One man’s forehead had a large open wound.
Another four bodies of civilians and four bodies of members of armed groups were deposited at a mosque in the PK5 neighborhood, confirmed Djibrine Youssouf, president of the neighborhood merchants’ association.
The U.N. said a Rwandan peacekeeper was killed and eight others were wounded Tuesday during “an exchange of fire with armed elements” for several hours in the capital, Bangui.
The U.N. said the attack occurred two days after its peacekeepers and local security forces launched a joint operation in PK5 to arrest and disarm armed criminal groups.
But a statement by Central African Republic’s defense minister said the country’s armed forces had not been involved. The minister urged residents of the capital to remain calm.
The U.N. peacekeeping chief in a separate statement said the new operation against armed groups was meant to protect the population from “criminal elements.”
The U.N. Security Council late Wednesday condemned the attack on U.N. peacekeepers in Bangui “in the strongest terms.”
The council called for “calm and restraint” and reiterated its demand “that all armed groups, in Bangui and in the rest of the country, cease all forms of violence and destabilizing activities, lay down their arms, and engage constructively in the peace process immediately and unconditionally.”
Council members expressed support for efforts by the U.N. peacekeeping force and the Central African Republic’s government “to stabilize the situation in Bangui and protect all civilians.”