BANGUI – French and African peacekeepers on Saturday seized weapons from militia in the capital of the strife-torn Central African Republic, but failed to detained a wanted leader of the rogue groups.
The international troops went house to house for about four hours in Bangui’s Boy Rabe neighbourhood, the base of mostly Christian militias whose attacks have driven many minority Muslims from the city in recent weeks, sparking warnings of “ethnic cleansing”.
Automatic weapons, grenades and a large number of munitions were seized in the operation that involved some 250 peacekeepers and police, according to an AFP correspondent on the scene.
“All people who were found to have weapons in their homes have been identified and will be handed over to the police,” a peacekeeper from the African Union MISCA mission told AFP.
But despite surrounding the house of a senior militia leader Patrice Edouard Ngaissona, the soldiers failed to capture the man who casts himself as the political coordinator of the fearsome “anti-balaka” militias.
“They didn’t manage to take me, I was out,” Ngaissona said later.
Bangui chief prosecutor Ghislain Grezenguet said Ngaissona was “the big fish who had to be detained.”
Peacekeepers left the neighbourhood after about four hours to jeers from residents.
The so-called “anti-balaka” militias were formed in the country in response to killing and pillaging by the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels following their coup nearly a year ago in the majority Christian nation.
In recent months, as international peacekeepers deployed to the former French colony have disarmed the Seleka, brutal attacks by the militias have sowed terror among the Muslim population, forcing many to flee the country.
Amnesty International this week warned that violence in Central Africa has grown into an “ethnic cleansing” campaign, while the UN refugee agency has described the situation as “a humanitarian catastrophe of unspeakable proportions”.