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Muslims seek refuge in C. African Republic church

CARNOT, Central African Republic — The Christian militiamen know hundreds of Muslims are hiding on the grounds of the Catholic church in Carnot and are giving them a final ultimatum: Leave Central African Republic within a week or face death at the hands of machete-wielding youths.

On Monday, some of the 30 Cameroonian peacekeepers fired into the air to disperse angry militia fighters congregated outside the concrete walls of the church compound. The gunfire sent traumatized children running for cover and set off a chorus of wails throughout the courtyard.

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The peacekeepers are all that stand between nearly 800 Muslims and the armed gangs. Already the fighters known as the anti-Balaka have brought 10 gallons of gasoline and threatened to burn the church to the ground.

Even the Rev. Justin Nary, who takes in more Muslims by the day, knows he too is a marked man in the eyes of anti-Balaka. ‘‘Walking through town, I’ve had guns pointed in my face four times,’’ he said. ‘‘They call my phone and say they’ll kill me once the peacekeepers are gone.’’

Some of those seeking refuge fled from the village of Guen, about 60 miles away, after at least 70 Muslims were killed there, according to the Rev. Rigobert Dolongo, who said he helped bury the bodies.

Muslims and Christians lived together in Carnot in relative peace for generations until a Muslim rebellion from the country’s far north overthrew the government and unleashed chaos. The rebels, known as Seleka, were blamed for scores of massacres on predominantly Christian villages across the country.

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