BANGUI : Fighting between mainly Muslim ex-rebels and the largely Christian ‘anti-balaka’ militia has killed at least 22 people in eastern Central African Republic, security officials said Thursday.

‘At least 22 people have been killed and more than 30 were wounded in clashes that broke out last Monday and Tuesday’ in a village outside of the central town of Bambari, a source in the local gendarmerie told AFP, asking not to be named. He said the fighting was between former rebels of the Seleka alliance backed by armed ethnic Fulani and the mainly Christian militia.

‘We have also counted 127 homes burned by the ex-Seleka and armed Fulani. Other people were kidnapped and taken to Bambari by the latter, who on Tuesday publicly executed two men,’ the source added.

The French defence ministry, which has deployed 2,000 peacekeeping troops in the strife-torn and deeply poor former colony, also reported ‘fighting’ between the ex-Seleka and anti-balaka vigilantes near Bambari on June 6 and 10.

‘In particular, we recovered the bodies of five Christians and two Muslims,’ army spokesman Colonel Gilles Jaron said during a weekly press briefing. ‘We don’t know who struck first.’ The Seleka seized power in Bangui in a successful coup in March 2013, ousting president Francois Bozize and installing Michel Djotodia as head of state until he resigned last January, giving way to a transitional regime.

Many Seleka forces went rogue and killed, raped and looted civilians, leading to a backlash with the emergence of anti-balaka (anti-machete) forces, who are equally accused of widespread atrocities, primarily targeting the Muslim minority. French troops in Operation Sangaris have a base in Bambari, where they battled ‘uncontrolled elements’ of the former Seleka coalition at the end of May, according to Paris. Reached by telephone, Seleka officials who asked not to be named confirmed the clashes early this week. One stated that the fighting was ‘a response by our units to attacks by the anti-balaka’.

In May, several leaders of the onetime alliance said that they wanted to reorganise the Seleka and set up their headquarters at Bambari, in a region known for anti-balaka activity. The transitional government led by interim President Catherine Samba Panza has denounced the establishment of this Seleka base. Her stance was broadly backed by the international community.

In addition to the French peacekeepers, more than 5,000 soldiers in a multinational force have been deployed in the CAR. The UN Security Council voted in April to send 12,000 peacekeepers to the troubled country, where the latest conflict has displaced about a quarter of the population of some 4.5 million.