BANGUI, Central African Republic — Aid officials pleaded for access to the neighborhoods of Central African Republic's treacherous capital on Wednesday, saying that sectarian clashes between rivaling Christian and Muslim militias make it too dangerous to help the wounded and to recover bodies.
Underscoring the chaotic security situation, the U.N. reported that two of its peacekeepers had been severely wounded. The violence marked the second attack of its kind Wednesday as the U.N. forces worked to take down roadblocks that had been put up by militants, said Stephane Dujarric, the spokesman for the U.N. Secretary-General.
At least 42 deaths have been confirmed in Bangui since sectarian clashes erupted on Saturday, including a teenage boy who was decapitated. However, the head of the national Red Cross told The Associated Press that death toll is far from complete as its workers have not been able to get into some of the hardest-hit neighborhoods.
"I'm calling on people to let the Red Cross circulate and do their humanitarian work because the organization is impartial, neutral and non-political," Antoine Mbao-Bogo said. "As of yesterday there were still many barriers and tensions were high, but people should know we are here for them."
The Red Cross' difficulties highlight how quickly and severely the situation has deteriorated in Central African Republic, which has undergone waves of deadly sectarian fighting since Muslim rebels in early 2013 overthrew the president of a decade. In that violence by Muslim and Christian fighters, untold thousands of civilians were killed, and tens of thousands of Muslims fled the country for their lives. Even convoys of Muslims trying to reach neighboring Chad were frequently fired upon by militants, killing would-be refugees.
A measure of stability was achieved in mid-2014 with the arrival of a U.N. peacekeeping force and the forced migration of most of Bangui's Muslim civilian population. The establishment of a transitional government, headed by President Catherine Samba-Panza, who was charged with leading the country to elections on Oct. 18.
But the slaying last week of a Muslim man whose body was left near a mosque in Bangui re-ignited violence between Muslim and Christian militias in the capital.
Samba-Panza rushed home from the U.N. General Assembly in New York because of the violence and the latest fighting is expected to derail plans for the upcoming elections. The violence also has raised doubts about Pope Francis will maintain his scheduled visit to Bangui in late November. Already more than 27,000 people have fled their homes in the past week in Bangui, many returning to a squalid refugee camp at the airport that authorities have been trying to dismantle.
The concerns about safe access to Bangui's neighborhoods have been echoed by Doctors Without Borders, which said wounded people had been arriving in many cases on foot. The group's ambulances also have been unable to circulate as the capital had become too dangerous.
"Given the situation around town, the number of wounded reaching our medical teams seems strangely low," said Emmanuel Lampaert, the group's head of mission in CAR. "Unfortunately, we think right now many people have no way to reach the emergency medical care they need. They cannot safely move to health facilities, and we cannot move out to reach them."
Larson reported from Dakar, Senegal.
This story is corrected to show that sectarian fighting began in 2013.