Chad troops defend actions in C. African Republic

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BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — The African peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic on Monday defended Chadian soldiers who had killed more than 30 civilians over the weekend, saying the troops had come under attack from Christian militants and were merely defending themselves.

However, the response from Gen. Martin Tumenta Chomu was unlikely to dampen the mounting anger toward the Muslim Chadian forces, who are bitterly despised by Bangui's Christian majority. Already some civilians were calling on the Christian fighters to step up their attacks on all Muslims following the deaths.

Local authorities said at least 20 people were killed in the PK12 neighborhood of Bangui over the weekend, and more than 100 others were wounded when the Chadian forces, who are aiding the peacekeeping mission known as MISCA, opened fire. Twelve other deaths also were blamed on the same peacekeepers. The African peacekeeping mission, though, displayed vehicles pockmarked by gunfire and insisted the other side had drawn their weapons first.

"They called me and I asked them to open warning shots on the road, and that's what they did in the PK12 and Gobongo neighborhoods," the general told reporters Monday.

He described the PK12 shooting as a "non-event" for the African peacekeeping mission, though it has heightened anger in Bangui, where civilians have suffered countless attacks over the last year.

Among those furious with the Chadian response was Hortensia Gona, 40, who sat in a Bangui hospital on Monday beside her 15-year-old daughter who had been shot in the leg.

"We should be finished with this Chadian problem," she said, encouraging people to march on the PK5 neighborhood where some of the city's last Muslims are staying.

Chad has long been accused of meddling in the conflict in its southern neighbor Central African Republic, as Chadian mercenary fighters helped Muslim rebels overthrow the government in March 2013. Those same Chadian fighters were accused of carrying out some of the worst atrocities against Christians in the country, and as a result all Chadian nationals have been targeted for attack since the Muslim rebel government dissolved in January.

In addition to the Chadian forces aiding the MISCA mission, there are also special forces from the Chadian military who have been in Central African Republic to help evacuate Muslims under threat of attack. The Christian anti-Balaka fighters — known for wearing amulets they say protect them from gunfire — have killed hundreds of Muslims on the streets of Bangui since the rebel government fell.

At the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern at the latest upsurge in violence, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Ban did not mention the Chadian shootings but condemned "in the strongest possible terms all acts of violence against civilians, and against international forces working in the Central African Republic to re-establish peace and order," Dujarric said.

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Larson reported from Dakar, Senegal. Associated Press writers Steve Niko in Bangui, Central African Republic and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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