Michel Djotodia, President of the Central African Republic.Michel Djotodia, President of the Central African Republic.Crispin for World Watch Monitor

One person has been killed and around 40 wounded after African Union (AU) troops reportedly fired at a group of Christian protestors in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR).

The Christians had gathered near the city’s airport to petition for the removal of President Michel Djotodia, the country’s first Muslim leader who took power in a coup in March, and Chadian AU forces thought to be loyal to him.

Meanwhile, some Muslims have protested against the presence of the French army, which they suspect to be backing the country’s Christians.

The AU has nearly 4,000 troops in the country, including a contingent from neighbouring Chad; former colonial power France has deployed 1,600.

Interfaith violence has engulfed the CAR since Djotodia’s installation as President. His coup was backed by Séléka, a Muslim rebel group, which he later disbanded after its members looted, raped and murdered Christians in particular.

However, rebels from the disbanded group continue to fight against militias, named anti-Balaka (anti-machete), which were formed to combat their threat.

The anti-Balaka have been widely reported to be dominated by Christians, but one local church leader suggests this is untrue and is placing Christians at further risk.

Red Cross workers bury a corpse near Bossangoa. Thousands have died since Djotodia came to power in March.Red Cross workers bury a corpse near Bossangoa. Thousands have died since Djotodia came to power in March.World Watch Monitor

“The number of Christians killed in these incidents is continuing to rise,” said the church leader, who wished to remain anonymous. “The anti-Balaka, wrongly referred to in the media as Christian militia groups, are continuing for their part to attack and kill Muslims. Anti-Balaka elements are blending into the general population in the different areas of Bangui, and are threatening those who do not encourage them in their actions.”

Another local church leader told World Watch Monitor that at least eight pastors have been killed since the conflict began, up from the previous estimate of three. He added that the Bible Society has been looted three times and Bibles torn to shreds.

Looting of churches, including the Baptist Union Church in the Muslim-dominated Gbaya Dombia district of Bangui, has also been reported.

The church leader said that since the dismissal of Pastor Josué Binoua from his position as Minister of Territorial Administration, “Séléka fighters have been disguising themselves as armed policemen and gendarmes, driving around in police vehicles, and committing acts of violence in various parts of the city”.

World Watch Monitor reported that at least 400 people were killed in three days of violence earlier this month, although the figure was likely to be much higher. Amnesty International reported that more than 1,000 may have been killed.