BANGUI, Central African Republic – Wielding rifles and machetes, armed Christian fighters who support the Central African Republic’s exiled president assaulted the capital at dawn Thursday, leaving nearly 100 people dead.
Shrouded bodies were lined up in a mosque as dozens of wounded lay on blood-stained hospital floors.
The ambush on Muslim neighborhoods of Bangui came as the United Nations voted to send a contingent of French troops to try to stabilize the country, and French President Francois Hollande announced plans to double the force.
The daylong gunbattle touched even the most protected parts of the capital, including the residence of the prime minister, underscoring the volatile mix of arms and ideology facing the arriving French force.
Scores died in Thursday’s attack, including the 48 bodies laid out in the mosque. A Doctors Without Borders spokeswoman said an additional 50 deaths had been confirmed, bringing the toll to 98.
Some died of bullet wounds, others from what appeared to be machete blows using a weapon known in the local language as a balaka. The Christian militia, whose members are believed to have led the attack Thursday, call themselves the anti-balaka, reminiscent of the horrific violence once seen in Rwanda.
Rebel leader-turned-president Michel Djotodia appealed for calm, even as his own residence was looted and vandalized by the fighters. He announced a dusk-to-dawn curfew in a bid to stem the threat of retaliatory violence against Christians after the early morning attack on Muslim neighborhoods.
France already has hundreds of soldiers in Bangui, and an armored personnel carrier and other military vehicles patrolled the streets.
The resolution passed by the U.N. Security Council on Thursday allows France to send hundreds more troops for a temporary period. Hollande said the 600 troops already in the country would be doubled within a few days, even a few hours to around 1,200.
The U.N. measure also authorizes the deployment of an African Union-led force to Central African Republic for a year to protect civilians and restore public order.
Central African Republic, a desperately poor country in the heart of Africa where the life expectancy is 48 years, has been roiled by rebellions and coups for decades.