Dozens of heavily armed Muslim rebels opened fire inside a hospital in a remote corner of Central African Republic, killing at least 16 people including three local health workers employed by the international aid group, Doctors Without Borders, officials said Monday.
The weekend attack was the first time the international aid group has lost staff members in the country since sectarian violence began here in December. Doctors Without Borders, also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF, is the only group providing aid in much of the deeply impoverished country and has continuing working in areas where fighting has erupted.
The medical aid group confirmed that three staff members had been killed in Nanga Boguila, a town located in the northwest near the border with Chad.
"MSF is saddened and shocked by this senseless violence and lack of respect for our medical mission," said Marcel Langenbach, director of the group's operations.
The attack on the Boguila hospital came after it was surrounded by more than 40 armed rebels on Saturday, said a humanitarian official briefed on the killings. Inside the hospital staff members from Doctors Without Borders were meeting with several dozen local village chiefs from the area, the official said on condition of anonymity because the details had yet been made public.
Witnesses said the rebels had come to the hospital demanding money before opening fire on the meeting, according to Sylvain Dofone, a legislator from the area who said he had spoken with people who fled the violence and reached a neighbouring town 20 kilometres (12 miles) away.
"It's indescribable what is happening there. People are completely at the mercy of the Seleka forces and there is absolutely no international peacekeeping force present in the area," Dofone told The Associated Press.
The group known as Seleka was forced from power in the capital back in January nearly a year after its fighters overthrew the president of a decade. While ousted from Bangui, Seleka militants have been regrouping in the north and have staged a series of attacks on towns in recent weeks.