BANGUI (Reuters) - The interim president of Central African Republic returned home on Wednesday after leaving the U.N. General Assembly in New York early in response to the worst violence this year to hit the capital Bangui.
At least 39 people have died in inter-communal clashes that raise doubt about plans to hold elections on Oct. 18, meant to restore democracy to a country at the heart one of Africa’s most combustible regions following a rebellion and years of turmoil.
The violence broke out despite appeals by world leaders and local politicians and the presence of French and United Nations peacekeepers.
President Catherine Samba-Panza left the United States on Tuesday, spent the night in Cameroon and later arrived at her home in Bangui, according to a resident who lives nearby and witnessed her return.
She is yet to make a public statement following her return and two advisers did not respond to calls for comment.
Samba-Panza has blamed the latest unrest on supporters of former president Francois Bozize, who was ousted in 2013 by mainly Muslim rebels who fought under the umbrella group Seleka.
The violence began on Saturday when the body of a murdered Muslim man was found, triggering reprisal attacks on a largely Christian neighborhood. The city was calmer on Wednesday but at least two people have died since Tuesday afternoon.
Mourners brought one of the bodies to Bangui’s main morgue in a cart on Wednesday. One of the dead was killed in a mainly Muslim district and the other in a clash near the airport, witnesses said, without giving details.
The Seleka stepped aside in the mostly Christian country in 2014 under pressure from the United Nations and former colonial ruler France. This cleared the way for an interim government led by Samba-Panza and backed by the United Nations.
Reprisals and counter-attacks have continued, though before this month the capital had been relatively peaceful this year. Thousands of people have been killed overall in a country that has been effectively divided in two since last year.
Hundreds of people rallied in a city square for a planned march calling for the restoration of a national army, then dispersed when organizers called the protest off.
“We have decided to put off our demonstration until another date because people of bad faith have decided to infiltrate our movement to give it a bad name,” Gervaise Lakosso, coordinator of the Civil Society Working Group, told Reuters.
The army was sidelined after the Seleka seized power, and has yet to be rearmed by the interim government after officers were linked to the largely Christian anti-balaka militia that carried out reprisals against Muslims after the coup.
The International Crisis Group think tank said the election should be postponed and urged France to rethink plans to scale down its peacekeeping mission.
“Exclusionary and botched elections are likely to trigger additional waves of sectarian violence,” ICG acting Africa director E.J. Hogendoorn said in a statement.
Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg; Editing by Mark Heinrich