Central African Republic: BBC map
Central African Republic: BBC map

The Bishop of Bossangoa Mgr. Nestor Aziagba says 45,000 people are in the Catholic compound in the town of  Bossangoa, surrounded by Seleka rebels. “People are sheltering in the church, terrified,” said Mgr. Aziagba, speaking by phone.

The Bishop explained that the situation in the town deteriorated sharply after a senior Seleka commander was killed in the capital, Bangui, on Thursday.  Fighting broke out in Bossangoa and on Friday Seleka fighters trapped Christian militia inside the Catholic Church compound.  Mgr. Aziagba said there was firing into the compound and 500 homes around the mission were burnt to the ground.

The Bishop described the situation in the town as very tense.  French warplanes flew over Bossangoa on Friday evening, and the Seleka rebels backed off. Mgr. Aziagba said a convoy of 10 vehicles had been seen heading for Bossangoa, but were deterred from advancing further by the French flights. The Bishop says there is real fear of a fresh assault on the Catholic compound in Bossangoa.

The town, some 300 km North of the capital Bangui, has been the scene of fierce clashes since the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels took the capital in March. France has dispatched 1,200 fresh troops to the Central African Republic in an attempt to bring a measure of order to the country. Fighting on Thursday and Friday are reported to have left at least 300 people dead, but the figure is expected to rise as bodies are counted.

Nadia Dibsy, from the International Committee of the Red Cross, said people in the capital are sheltering in churches and mosques. “They are feeling extremely insecure.” The Central African Red Cross is attempting to reach all areas of the city, collecting bodies and taking the wounded to hospital. She described some areas of Bangui as having been too dangerous to move around in, even for emergency workers. Some French troops are on the streets, but the situation is still very insecure.