BANGUI - When a heavily-armed convoy of former Seleka rebels zeroed in on his Central African town, Albert took his children and his livestock and fled into the bush.
Like the majority of the residents of Sibut, a strategic town linking the capital Bangui, 180 kilometres (110 miles) away, with the north of the country, Albert was not going to stick around for the terror the rebels have wrought across the strife-torn nation.
"As I speak to you, I am hiding in the bush, about 10km from Sibut. Ninety-nine percent of the inhabitants are in the bush, there is no one left in town," he told AFP by telephone.
"We fled with our livestock, our goats, but they followed us to steal our chickens," Albert explained. "We have settled in under a big tree... we sleep on the ground with our children like animals."
The ominous convoy rode into Sibut on Wednesday night, the fighters speaking only Arab, and began committing atrocities against civilians, a paramilitary police source said.
At their head was Mamadou Rakis, who has been deputy police chief under former rebel-turned-president Michel Djotodia who was brought to power in a coup by his mostly Muslim Seleka rebel group in March last year.
Djotodia then disbanded the Seleka group, but the fighters went rogue, spreading terror and violence across the nation and prompting Christian communities to form militia to defend themselves.
The resulting cycle of often horrific tit-for-tat violence has brought the country to its knees.
Djotodia's resignation on January 10, and the installment of a new interim government, have failed to stem the violence which has spread from the capital into the interior.
A French soldier of the Sangaris operation stand next to a mortar during a patrol in Bangui on January 30, 2014. PHOTO/AFP
French soldiers of the Sangaris operation, seen here patrolling in Bangui. PHOTO/AFP
This man was killed by Christian Anti-Balaka combattants after he was mistaken for a Muslim. PHOTO/AFP
Here, his widow (R) and sister wail as his body is being taken away on a cart (not pictured). PHOTO/AFP
Thousands have been displaced by the unrest in the country. PHOTO/AFP
And now there is an overall sense of desperation among many people who have been affected by the crisis. PHOTO/AFP
CAR transitional President Catherine Samba-Panza is now under pressure to bring her country back to order. PHOTO/AFP
Seleka "have flocked to all corners of the countryside, from Bangassou, Bambari, Grimari, Bria to Ndele," said Albert, naming a string of Central African towns.
"They have committed destruction, robberies in broad daylight, they break down doors, they loot, they clean out suburbs. Bad luck for you if they find you!" he added.
"They take money, cellphones. They rule the roost."
The Red Cross based in Bangui confirmed Friday that Seleka had stormed Sibut and that residents "are holed up in the bush."
None of the 1,600 French troops in the country were present in the town of some 20,000 people when the former rebels arrived.
A Gabonese contingent from the African Union force MISCA was surrounded and then fled, according to several sources.
The fighters "have moved into two bases in the town, one is at the mayor's office. They are armed to the teeth," said Albert, who said about 20 people had been killed.
"The only vehicles circulating belong to Seleka or the Red Cross. We are cut off from everything."
The attack seemed to take both the French and African troops by surprise, with spokesmen from both sides initially saying they were unaware of what was happening in the town.
However hope appeared Friday night as the French force launched an operation in the town, according to an army spokesman.
This was confirmed by a defence official in Paris who said French aircraft had been flying over the town since the afternoon.
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Hiding in the bush after C.Africa rebel attack