- Associated Press - Monday, May 15, 2017

BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) - United Nations peacekeeping forces in Central African Republic retook strategic points of Bangassou Monday after armed rebels attacked over the weekend, killing a peacekeeper at a nearby U.N. base and displacing several thousand, the United Nations said Monday.

More than 1,000 residents had fled their homes and had taken refuge in a mosque; some 1,500 others in a cathedral; and 500 others in a hospital, humanitarian agencies said.

U.N. forces pushed the Christian anti-Balaka rebels from areas around the mosque, allowing those inside to leave for a more secure area, according to U.N. mission spokesman Herve Verhoosel.

“Airstrikes carried out all day on Monday have allowed the troops on the ground to reconquer strategic points of the city before held by the assailants,” he said. “The U.N. force has also taken over and secured the mosque and the displaced who were inside.”

A Moroccan peacekeeper was killed in Saturday’s attack by some 700 anti-Balaka rebels who targeted Bangassou’s Muslim district of Tokoyo and the U.N. base. Many residents said they locked themselves in their homes as the anti-Balaka forces controlled the city.

Doctors Without Borders said at least 21 people were wounded but access to the area is needed to determine the full toll.

Cardinal Dieudonne Nzapalainga of Bangui initiated negotiations with the Christian rebels to stop the violence Sunday, according to Arnold Fagba, Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Bangui. But sporadic gunfire rang out Sunday evening, and they had not retreated by Monday.

Earlier, “armed men proceeded to destroy all of the bridges in Bangassou and had occupied the roads,” according to a statement by the U.N.’s humanitarian coordination agency.

Central African Republic President Faustin Archange Touadera on Sunday condemned the violence and reassured citizens that “Central African Republic will never be left in the hands of these sowers of death.”

Touadera called on the leaders of the armed groups to “stop this blind and unjustified violence,” warning that justice will be sought.

Fighting in the eastern region of Central African Republic has mounted in recent months. Five U.N. peacekeepers were killed in May 8 attacks near Bangassou. Clashes from May 6-7 in Alindao between sectarian rebel groups killed dozens of people, according to the Red Cross.

Central African Republic descended into sectarian conflict in 2013. Violence continues in remote areas outside government control.

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Associated Press writer Carley Petesch contributed from Dakar, Senegal.

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