C Africa soldiers lynch ex-rebel at military ceremony

BANGUI, Central African Republic - A suspected ex-rebel in the Central African Republic was lynched by soldiers after a military ceremony on Wednesday and his lifeless body dragged through the streets before being dismembered and set on fire.

The brutal attack occurred just moments after the ceremony in the capital Bangui addressed by the country's newly appointed interim president, witnesses and AFP journalists said.

Graphic pictures showed soldiers attacking a young man in civilian clothes, stamping on his head, stabbing and throwing stones at him.

His body was then dragged though the streets as African Union troops looked on.

Senior government and army officials, including interim president Catherine Samba Panza, had only just left the ceremony when the attack took place.

It was a reminder of the brutal violence that has displaced around one million people since a coup in the deeply troubled country last March.

The lynching against a man suspected of being a former member of the Seleka rebel movement was carried out under the noses of soldiers from the African Union-led MISCA mission, who were providing security at the ceremony.

Witnesses said the body was dismembered and burned before MISCA troops finally intervened to disperse the crowd with tear gas and shots in the air.

Just moments before, Panza had told the crowd of around 4,000 troops and dignitaries gathered at the National School of Magistrates of her "pride in seeing so many elements of the Central African Republic Forces reunited".

The ceremony was supposed to mark the reformation of troops dispersed since the coup that brought rebel Michel Djotodia to power.

He was forced to resign on January 10 under pressure from the international community, amid mounting violence between rival Muslim and Christian militants.

In Bangui, the mainly Muslim fighters of the Seleka rebel alliance have been largely neutralised by the 1,600 French soldiers who deployed on December 5 alongside the 5,500 MISCA troops.

But the French and African troops operate largely in the capital, while the Muslim-Christian bloodletting continues in the interior. Even in Bangui, the Red Cross last week reported finding 30 bodies in three days.

Panza assured the troops that talks were underway with international partners to secure their wages, unpaid for five months.

The ceremony was attended by senior members of the transitional government and armed forces, as well as General Francisco Soriano, commander of French forces in the country under Operation Sangaris, and General Atanase Kararuza, deputy commander of MISCA.

No reaction could be immediately obtained from the government, MISCA or Sangaris forces.