Ex-Seleka fighters massacre 'at least 34' in C.Africa villages

BANGUI, Central African Republic - Suspected ex-rebels from the Central African Republic's Seleka movement massacred at least 34 people in several northern villages over the past three days, an officer in the African peacekeeping force MISCA told AFP on Saturday.

"At least 34 people from several villages were killed between August 13 and 15 in the M'bres region by armed men identified by inhabitants as ex-Seleka" and members of the Fulani ethnic group, the officer said on condition of anonymity.

He said the fleeing residents spoke of the attackers "firing on their victims at point-blank range and chasing them into the bush -- some of the victims died by hanging, others were beaten or tortured to death".

One resident who fled, Achille Ketegaza, confirmed that account to AFP, saying: "The attackers arrived by foot and on motorbikes. They fired point-blank at anybody they encountered.

"They said they were going to 'clean' eight villages between M'bres, Ndele and Bakala before September 15," when a UN force is to be deployed to the country, Ketegaza said, pleading for help from MISCA and French forces in the country.

The Central African Republic has been torn apart by ethnic and religious violence since the Seleka -- an alliance of mostly Muslim groups -- seized power in March 2013.

Their leader, Michel Djotodia, was president for nine months before having to step down under strong international pressure after many Seleka fighters refused to disband and carried out atrocities against civilians.

A mostly Christian militia called the "anti-balaka" (anti-machete) rose to counter the rogue Seleka fighters, but they also committed serious crimes against civilians.

Some 2,000 French peacekeeping troops were deployed alongside an African Union military force of around 6,000 men from December last year.

Transitional President Catherine Samba Panza last week appointed a new interim prime minister, Mahamat Kamoun, to lead a new broad-based government with the task of ending the chaos and overseeing a democratic transition in the deeply poor landlocked nation.

Seleka, which controls parts of the north, has said it will not participate in the new government.

Around 80 per cent of the CAR population is Christian, while 15 per cent practice Islam, according to a US State Department survey in 2010.