DAKAR About 1,000 people held hostage since the weekend by armed militias in a mosque amid violent clashes in southeastern Central African Republic have been freed, U.N. officials said on Monday.
"I can confirm that the mosque is now empty. The last 250 men inside until this afternoon have been transferred out," said Herve Verhoosel, spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping mission (MINUSCA), by telephone from Bangui.
Women, children and the injured had been set free earlier on Monday before the remaining men were evacuated from the building.
He added that MINUSCA forces had since opened fire on the militias who had been guarding the mosque and had mobilised a helicopter to the town on the Congolese border.
The Bangassou clashes entered their third day on Monday and have involved hundreds of fighters with heavy weaponry in the latest sign that a multi-year conflict spurred by ethnic and religious tensions is worsening.
So far, the bodies of at least 26 people have been identified.
The assailants have targeted civilians and U.N. peacekeepers, killing one soldier, as well as the airport and strategic bridges across the River Mbomou.
(Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Catherine Evans and Pritha Sarkar)