Thirteen decomposing corpses have been discovered in a camp housing ex-rebels in the strife-torn Central African Republic, a prosecutor said on Friday.
The corpses, some mere skeletons, were found in a disused fuel tank at a camp of former fighters of the mostly Muslim Seleka rebel group whose coup a year ago sparked the country’s descent into chaos.
Killings and pillaging by ex-Seleka rebels following the coup led to the formation of mainly Christians, whose attacks in recent weeks have led many minority Muslims to flee the country.
The bodies “were found in different places in the tank, which suggests that the people were thrown in there alive and struggled to get out,” Ghislain Grezenguet, lead prosecutor in the capital Bangui, said.
They were found by international peacekeepers whose suspicions were aroused by the nauseating stench coming from the site, he said.
Some of the victims, whose identities have not yet been established, are thought to have died between a week and 10 days ago.
The commander of the camp, Aboubakar Mahamat, said that he had “said everything to the investigators.”
Amnesty International this week warned that violence in Central Africa has grown into an “ethnic cleansing” campaign, while the UN refugee agency has described the situation as “a humanitarian catastrophe of unspeakable proportions”.
The UN children’s agency on Friday said it was horrified at how children are being maimed and killed, including by beheadings, in the country.
“There is no future for a country where adults can viciously target innocent children with impunity,” said Manuel Fontaine, Unicef regional director for west and central Africa.
Unicef officials in the region “are horrified by the cruelty and impunity with which children are being killed and mutilated” and are “increasingly targeted because of their religion, or because of their community”, the organisation said in a statement.
At least 133 children have been killed and maimed, some of them in horrific ways, in the past two months and Unicef has verified cases of children intentionally beheaded and mutilated. “Impunity must end,” Fontaine said.
Many wounded children have often not been able to get to the hospital for treatment because of the violence.
Separately, France plans to increase the number of troops it has deployed in the Central African Republic, a French source said on Friday in Paris.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity following a meeting on the matter at the Elysee presidential palace, did not reveal details or say how many troops would be added to the existing 1,600-strong French force in the former colony.
Earlier, French President Francois Hollande called on the United Nations to fast-track the deployment of peacekeepers in the Central African Republic to help quell a bloody sectarian conflict.
In a telephone call to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Hollande said UN troops were needed to help restore peace and prop up the administration of new interim president Catherine Samba Panza.
“The UN Security Council set a clear mandate (for peacekeepers) which must be quickly and firmly implemented. It’s a question mainly of speeding up the preparation for a peacekeeping operation, in close partnership with the African Union,” said a statement from the French presidency.
At the same time, France was racing to recruit hundreds of troops for an EU military mission to the CAR. “We are working with a sense of urgency,” said General Philippe Ponties in Brussels on Wednesday, who took up the post as the mission chief for the force earlier this week.