Death toll in C.Africa clashes rises

Twelve people were killed in fierce clashes over the weekend between vigilante groups and former rebels in the western Central African town of Bouar, according to a military source Sunday.

The updated death toll came after militias armed with machetes encircled Bouar, a town some 400 kilometres (250 miles) northwest of the capital Bangui on Saturday morning, the same source said on condition of anonymity.

They were later confronted by troops from the Central African Republic, formerly members of the Seleka rebel group, now integrated into the country's regular armed forces. The troops were able to seize back control of the town.

The latest reports showed that "12 people died, seven from the vigilante groups and five from the ranks of former Seleka members, with several injured on both sides", said the source.

Previous reports said that four people had been killed in Saturday's fighting.

Some calm had returned to the town by Sunday, and there was no exchange of gunfire reported as government forces tried to reassure those residents remaining in Bouar, a town of 40,000 people.

Up to 6,000 people had sought refuge in a church in the town during fighting on Saturday and many were still inside the sanctuary on Sunday, where food was increasingly scarce, the church abbot said.

Maxime Lalai, a local resident who spoke to AFP by telephone, said the attackers had "surrounded the town" on Saturday trapping those residents who were unable to flee beforehand.

Up to 500 men had attacked the town, estimated Awalou Mamadou, a local shopkeeper in Bouar.

Clashes have grown more common in recent months as gangs of armed vigilantes in the largely Christian country have targeted Muslims.

The vigilante groups were formed in response to killings, looting and abuse committed by former rebels who did not integrate into the army after a coup in March which saw president Francois Bozize toppled.

The former leader of the now disbanded Seleka rebel group, Michel Djotodia, has been installed as the impoverished country's president, and its first Muslim leader.

Former colonial power France has warned that the country risked becoming a Somali-style "failed state" and has pushed for greater international support.