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Violence escalates ahead of Pope’s visit to Central African Republic

Peacekeeping troops escort a humanitarian aid convoy in mid-February in Bangui, Central African Republic. (CNS photo/Legnan Koula, EPA)

UN officials say at least five people are dead and thousands have fled a camp for displaced people in Central African Republic after it came under attack by rebel fighters.

The violence took place in the northern town of Batangafo, the UN refugee agency said yesterday.

A preliminary report says that Muslim fighters killed five people in retaliation after two young Muslims had been killed earlier in the day there.

Charles Mballa, the UN refugee agency deputy representative in the country, condemned the “horrific acts.”

Tensions are mounting ahead of national elections set for late December in Central African Republic.

As a result of violence over the last few years, some 860,000 people have been forced from their homes. Pope Francis is due to visit the capital later this month.

The UN peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic is adding hundreds of troops and police before next month’s elections, but their arrival is expected to be too late for Pope Francis’s visit to the violent country.

A UN official said the mission and the Vatican are discussing security in Central African Republic, where a recent surge in killings forced the elections to be delayed from October.

The Pope is visiting three African countries from November 25 to 30, including Kenya and Uganda.

Earlier this month, he acknowledged the risks of coming to the Central African Republic but said he wants to promote mercy in the “afflicted and tormented nation.”