Rebels in the Central African Republic (CAR) have killed the brother and nephew of one of the country's leading Christian leaders, adding to the increasing death toll from the renewed upsurge of violence in the African nation.
The latest killings took place as an armed group known as "Anti-Balaka" (balaka means "machete") has taken over the south-eastern city of Bangassou, the World Watch Monitor (WWM) reported.
On Monday, Rev. Nicolas Guérékoyamé-Gbangou, the president of the country's Evangelical Alliance, was working to negotiate peace in the region when rebels from another faction, called Ex-Séléka, came to his home in the town of Alindao and killed his kin. Guérékoyamé-Gbangou has long been recognized for his peacekeeping efforts in the country.
About 37 people were reportedly killed and more than 100 injured in the rebel attack on the town.
There were also unconfirmed reports that around 10 churches were destroyed or looted in the surrounding villages.
About 3,000 people sought refuge inside a Catholic church compound, according to WWM.
"In Alindao the corpses still litter the streets. The houses are looted and burned. The population is fleeing to the Catholic Church or the United Nations site ... The government is powerless in the face of these attacks," a local source told the news outlet.
More deaths were reported in Bangassou, 230 km east of Alindao, where more than 100 people were killed during the rebel attack over the weekend, according to the Red Cross.
"We found 115 bodies and 34 have been buried," Antoine Mbao Bogo, the president of the aid group's local branch in Bangassou, told Reuters.
Al Jazeera noted that the violence was the latest round of a conflict that began in 2013 when mainly Muslim Seleka fighters seized power and ousted then-president Francois Bozize, triggering reprisal killings from anti-Balaka militias.
Yonas Dembele, from the charity Open Doors' World Watch Research unit, said the security situation in CAR remains tenuous and that the "continued existence of these militias poses a serious threat to the safety of Christians in the predominantly Muslim parts of the country."
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the armed groups fighting for control of a central province in the CAR have targeted civilians in apparent reprisal killings over the past three months.
"Armed groups are targeting civilians for revenge killings in the central part of the country," said Lewis Mudge, Africa researcher at HRW. "As factions vie for power in the Central African Republic, civilians on all sides are exposed to their deadly attacks."
Open Doors USA ranks Central African Republic as 34th on its 2017 World Watch List of 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. Islamic extremism is the primary source of persecution in CAR even though Christians make up more than 50 percent of the country's population, according to the CIA World Factbook.
Nevertheless, Open Doors says Christians are forced to flee from their villages and are denied access to farming fields by Fulani herdsman and Muslim extremists.