Protesters have laid the corpses of at least 16 people in front of the United Nations mission in the Central African Republic, saying they were killed in clashes between UN troops and armed groups in the country, according to witnesses.
UN peacekeepers and local security forces on Sunday launched an operation against armed groups in PK5 neighborhood, a Muslim enclave of the majority Christian city of Bangui.
The UN mission (MINUSCA) said one Rwandan peacekeeper was killed and eight others were injured in fighting on Tuesday.
The protesters accuse the UN troops of opening fire on civilians demonstrating against the operation in their neighborhood.
MINUSCA accuses self-styled Muslim self-defense groups, who are stationed in PK5 and are claiming to protect residents there, of extortion and violence against civilians and says the UN troops were attacked on Tuesday and were forced to fire back.
The protesters on Wednesday put the bodies wrapped in cloth in front of MINUSCA’s gates.
“We, ourselves, no longer understand anything. Does their mission consist of shooting at civilians?” a demonstrator said.
Vladimir Monteiro, the spokesman for MINUSCA, denied that the mission had fired at civilians, saying the UN troops had been targeting criminal gangs.
“This is not an operation against communities and specifically the Muslim community. The Muslim community asked our troops to launch the operation and put an end to the criminal activities,” he said.
Monteiro also slammed Wednesday’s protesters, saying, “We regret the fact that the bodies were being manipulated while they should be buried like every person who dies.”
Atahirou Balla Dodo, the mayor of Bangui, said some 21 people were killed in the fighting, adding that the protesters brought 17 of them to MINUSCA, while four others, including two women and two children, had remained at a mosque.
The Red Cross later removed the corpses from MINUSCA. Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said it had treated more than 40 people for gunshot wounds on Tuesday.
The Central African Republic has been witnessing violence since a coup ousted President Francois Bozize in 2013. The coup pushed the country into an ethnic conflict between the Christian and Muslim populations. The largely Christian “anti-balaka” militias were formed to avenge what they called atrocities by the members of the Seleka group, who had been behind the coup, resulting in waves of killing, rape and pillaging ever since.