BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — Dozens of heavily armed Muslim rebels opened fire inside a hospital in a remote corner of Central African Republic, killing at least 16 people including three local health workers employed by Doctors Without Borders, officials said Monday.
The weekend attack was the first time the international aid group has lost staff members in the country since sectarian violence began here in December. Doctors Without Borders, also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres, of MSF, is the only group providing aid in much of the deeply impoverished country and has continuing working in areas where fighting has erupted.
Spokesman Tim Shenk confirmed that three colleagues had been killed in Nanga Boguila, a town located in the northwest near the border with Chad, though had no further details.
A humanitarian official briefed on the attack said the hospital had been surrounded by more than 40 armed rebels on Saturday.
The attack on the Boguila hospital came as staff members from Doctors Without Borders met with several dozen local village chiefs from the area. At least 16 people were killed, the official said on condition of anonymity because the details had yet been made public.
Sylvain Dofone, a legislator from the area, said he had spoken with people who fled the violence and reached a neighboring town 20 kilometers (12 miles) away. Witnesses said the rebels had come to the hospital demanding money before opening fire on the meeting.
“It’s indescribable what is happening there. People are completely at the mercy of the Seleka forces and there is absolutely no international peacekeeping force present in the area,” Dofone told The Associated Press.
The group known as Seleka was forced from power in the capital back in January nearly a year after its fighters overthrew the president of a decade. While ousted from Bangui, ex-Seleka militants have been regrouping in the north and have staged a series of attacks on towns in recent weeks.
The Seleka forces, which include mercenaries from Chad and Sudan, were blamed for countless atrocities against civilians during their violent 10-month rule. While their agenda was not religious in nature, the disproportionate violence carried out against Christians prompted a vicious backlash when Seleka lost control of the government. Christian militia fighters known as the anti-Balaka began launching attacks on Muslim civilians, carrying out massacres that prompted tens of thousands of Muslims to flee the country for their lives.
Some 2,000 French troops and nearly 5,000 African peacekeepers are trying to stabilize a country the size of Texas that is home to 4.6 million people.
Associated Press writer Steve Niko contributed to this report.
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