Human Rights Watch (HRW) has revealed details of the execution of at least 32 civilians by an armed group in the lawless heart of the Central African Republic late last year.
The HRW said in a report on Thursday that militants from the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC), a splinter group from a rebel force in neighboring Chad, had killed 32 civilians and captured fighters in the town of Bakala in December 2016.
The New York-based rights group said 25 people had been killed after they were called to a school for an alleged meeting, while seven other men were executed as they were returning from a nearby gold mine.
"Accounts of the incidents were provided by a survivor and eight witnesses, including five men who were forced to help dispose of the bodies,” said the HRW in a statement.
A representative of the rights group in the Africa region also denounced the killing as "brazen war crimes by UPC fighters who feel free to kill at will.”
In January, the UPC denied that its militants had been involved in any form of killing in Bakala region.
"Soldiers in the UPC cannot execute civilians or prisoners ... What you have heard about the UPC are lies," said Ali Darassa, UPC’s commander since the formation of the group in September 2014.
Experts from the United Nations had earlier warned that armed groups were using the lawlessness in tracts of the CAR to maintain their interests, ranging from control of gold and other mines, cattle rustling and highway robbery.
“They have taken the place of the judicial apparatus and [they] terrify the population,” Marie-Therese Keita-Bocoum, an independent UN expert on human rights in the CAR said, adding that “armed groups reign as masters over more than 60 percent of the territory, benefiting from total impunity.”
France and the UN’s mission in the CAR, known as MINUSCA, have intervened militarily in the African country to end large-scale massacres and restore relative order to the capital, Bangui. However, insecurity continues to grip swaths of the territory.