Children, pregnant woman among 12 dead in Central Africa unrest

BANGUI, Central African Republic (AFP) - At least 12 people, including children and a pregnant woman, have been killed close to the capital Bangui by Christian vigilantes, a military source said on Wednesday, amid rising fears of sectarian massacres in the Central African Republic.

The vicious attack against the Peuhl Muslim minority, in which a pregnant woman was disembowelled, came as the United Nations is about to approve the deployment of an African Union force to restore order in the lawless country.

"The assailants were seen not far from the camp and they returned in the night to attack the herdsmen who were there with just knives," a military source said of the attack about 95km from the north of Bangui.

"Among the victims were children and a disembowelled pregnant woman. Some managed to escape and there are more than 10 wounded who have been transferred to Bangui," the source added.

The Peuhl people are traditionally pastoralist, and are a minority in the impoverished, landlocked nation of 4.5 million people which was plunged into chaos after the March coup by the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels.

The Seleka have since been disbanded, but rights groups say the motley crew of ex-rebels have taken to looting and burning villages, killing inhabitants who fail to flee.

Locals in the majority Christian country have responded by forming vigilante groups known as "anti-balaka" (anti-machete). The ensuing clashes have taken on a religious undertone, raising fears of sectarian massacres.

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