Bangui: At least 22 people have been killed in two days of clashes in Central African Republic, witnesses said on Tuesday, as foreign troops struggle to curb cycles of violence between Muslim and Christian communities.
Witnesses in Bambari, a town 380 km (236 miles) northwest of Bangui, said an initial attack early on Monday by mainly Christian militia just outside the town led to waves of reprisals by Muslim youths.
Bambari sits on a fault line that has emerged across the country, where over a year of violence has killed thousands, forced a million from their homes and led to most Muslims fleeing into northern zones closer to Chad and Sudan.
Ibrahim Alawad, a witness in Bambari, said he had counted at least 22 bodies in a village 7 km from the town after the initial attack by militia, known as `anti-Balaka`.
"Some had been cut to pieces, some had their hearts cut out," he said. "I saw about five children and six women."
Citing reports from other witnesses, he also said: "After that the youth of the Muslim area went there. They killed about 10 anti-Balaka."
Antoine Mbao Bogo, president of the local Red Cross, said fighting was continuing on Tuesday and it was too early for staff to collect bodies.
There was no immediate comment from the government or French or African peacekeepers deployed in the country.
A witness at the Catholic Church in Bambari said Muslims who went to the village following the initial attack started shooting at people and burning houses in revenge once they returned to Bambari on Monday.
"It was revenge ... there were many dead yesterday," said the witness, who gave her name only as Marie-Rosalie.
Marie-Rosalie said she had counted five bodies near the church but had received reports of as many as 100 lying in the town`s morgue.
The violence in the former French colony stems back to the takeover last year of the capital by the mostly Muslim Seleka rebel group, whose time in power was marked by a string of rights abuses, leading to the creation of the Christian militia.
Seleka stepped down earlier this year under intense international pressure but a weak interim government has failed to stamp its authority on the country, which is rich in gold and diamonds but seen little but violence and political instability.
Earlier this month, President Catherine Samba-Panza sent a request to the International Criminal Court to open an investigation into crimes committed during inter-communal violence raging there since mid-2012.
Last month, French peacekeeping troops used helicopter gunships and mortars to fight Muslim rebels at a bridge in Bambari.