BANGUI (AP):France unexpectedly raised its troop deployment in Central African Republic by hundreds of soldiers yesterday, as Christians fearing reprisal attacks sought refuge from Muslim former rebels who control the country in wake of massacres in the capital.
At least 280 people have been killed in recent days — the worst violence in the lawless country in months.
Concluding an aptly-timed and long-planned conference on African security in Paris, French President Francois Hollande said his nation - armed with a muscular new United Nations mandate - was raising its deployment to 1,600 yesterday, 400 more than initially planned.
French troops were patrolling the capital, Bangui, and fanning out into the back country.
Former coloniser France has dispatched forces to help stabilise a crisis that its foreign minister has said now verges on genocide.
The local Red Cross says it has gathered more than 280 bodies in recent days, although the perilous security had made it impossible to access some of the hardest-hit neighbourhoods.
Bloodshed was rife last Thursday, hours before a UN vote paved the way for a greater French and African presence to be deployed.
Yesterday, some Bangui residents ventured outside for the first time in days only to bury their dead.
French armoured personnel carriers and troops from the regional African peacekeeping mission roared at high speed down Bangui's roads, as families carrying palm fronds pushed coffins in carts on the roads' shoulders.
In a sign of the mounting tensions, others walking briskly on the streets carried bow-and-arrows and machetes.
Aid workers returned to the streets to collect bloated bodies that had laid uncollected in the heat since last Thursday, when Christian fighters known as the anti-balaka who oppose the country's ruler descended on the capital in a coordinated attack on several mostly Muslim neighbourhoods.