At least 22 people have been killed in three days of fighting in a town in southeastern Central African Republic, a member of parliament from the area and a local journalist said on Friday.
The clashes between armed Fulani herders and militia fighters in Zemio, about 1,000 km (620 miles) east of the capital Bangui, began on Wednesday. Heavy gunfire continued the following day and into Friday.
Thousands have died and a fifth of Central Africans have fled their homes in a conflict that broke out after mainly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted President Francois Bozize in 2013, provoking a backlash from Christian anti-balaka militias.
The trigger for this week’s violence was not immediately clear. The Fulani herders involved in the fighting were believed to be associated with the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC), a group that belonged to the now disbanded Seleka coalition and which some experts say could be taking advantage of a security vacuum in the region.
“Already on June 28 there were 22 dead, but things have evolved through yesterday and there are several other people burnt inside houses where it’s not possible to have access,” lawmaker Dalou Wamboli told Reuters.
Wamboli was speaking in Bangui but had remained in contact with constituents in Zemio during the violence until telephone connections were cut. He then reached residents who fled to neighbouring towns with phone access.
Albert Stanislas Koumbobacko, a journalist from Zemio who was also in contact via phone with residents who fled, confirmed the death toll of 22.
The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Friday that around 1,000 people had fled this week’s violence.