By Media Coulibaly
BANGUI (Reuters) - An angry crowd killed and mutilated a man who fell from a truck filled with Muslims fleeing the capital of Central African Republic on Friday, witnesses said, while an international court said it would probe alleged crimes committed there.
The attack was the second incident of a public, daylight lynching this week as inter-communal violence rages between the country's majority Christian population and the mostly Muslim Seleka, whose ten-month rule ended in January.
One man toppled from the convoy and was killed by a crowd, with his hands and genitals cut off, Peter Bouckaert, Human Rights Watch emergencies coordinator, told Reuters.
"It was easily over 10,000 people and that's an extremely conservative estimate," he said, referring to the convoy's size.
Red Cross director Pastor Antoine Mbao Bogo said that his organization was later called to collect the mutilated body, adding it had located three other bodies on Friday.
In The Hague, the International Criminal Court said on Friday it would open a preliminary examination into crimes, including alleged killings, acts of rape and sexual slavery allegedly committed during the conflict.
"The plight of civilians in CAR since September 2012 has gone from bad to worse," it said in a statement, adding some victims appeared to have been singled out on religious grounds.
A Reuters witness saw around 20 pick-up trucks leaving Bangui early this morning in the latest stage in an exodus of Muslims from the capital and other parts of the south.
MUSLIMS MOVE OUT
African peacekeepers from Chad protected the convoy and fired tear gas to disperse crowds who sought to mob two trucks left behind, accusing those inside of being armed Chadians.
More than a quarter of the population of the former French colony has fled their homes as part of the upheaval.
"Entire neighborhoods are being emptied of Muslims. Their presence is being erased from this city," said Bouckaert.
"Their mosques are being demolished brick by brick," he said, adding he had seen only one mosque remained out of eight in one neighborhood of Bangui.
The Muslims are under threat because they are identified with Muslim Seleka fighters, who seized power last March and embarked on a 10-month occupation of towns and cities marked by looting, torture and murder.
Resentment against the Seleka among the country's Christian majority led to the formation of Christian "anti-balaka" militias, meaning "anti-machete" in the Sango language, further fanning the flames of inter-religious bloodshed.
The presence of 1,600 French soldiers and 5,000 African troops has failed to stop the violence, which the United Nations says has killed more than 2,000 people.
Catherine Samba-Panza, Bangui's mayor, was named interim president last month, replacing former interim President and Seleka head Michel Djotodia who stepped down under international pressure for failing to stop the killings.
The difficulties she faces in restoring control were emphasized on Wednesday when soldiers lynched and mutilated a suspected rebel at a military ceremony she had attended in the capital.
Rebels who have fled Bangui in recent weeks are regrouping in the country's northwest where they have launched renewed attacks against civilians, according to Human Rights Watch.
The rights group also accused Chadian peacekeepers of facilitating the movements of Seleka leaders responsible for a new wave of atrocities. Bouckaert said Seleka leaders were among the Muslims who left in the convoy.
Mineral-rich Central African Republic has a history of political instability and has seen five coups and several rebellions since winning independence from the French in 1960.
But inter-religious violence had been rare and many blame a political battle for control over resources in one of Africa's weakest states, split along ethnic fault lines and worsened by foreign meddling.
(Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Emma Farge; Additional reporting by Emmanuel Braun and Thomas Escritt; Editing by Tom Heneghan)