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Rebel fighters and armed Muslim civilians have killed “many” people in an attack on a church compound in the Central African Republic where thousands of civilians had taken refuge, Catholic Church officials said.

Monday’s attack in Bambari, 236 miles northeast of the capital Bangui, came just a day before French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was due to visit the town, where a grenade attack injured seven French soldiers last week.

Church officials said fighters from the Seleka rebel movement and armed civilians from the town’s Muslim community entered St. Joseph’s Cathedral around 3 pm. (1400 GMT).

“We don’t have the exact death toll yet, but many people have been killed. As I’m speaking to you, they are still there,” the Rev. Jesus Martial Dembele, vicar general for the archdiocese of Bangui, told Reuters.

As details began to emerge of the attack, an official with the African Union peacekeeping mission said that at least 20 people had been killed and another 25 wounded, though this could not be independently confirmed.