Bangui - French and African peacekeepers on Saturday launched a major push to disarm militias in the capital of the strife-torn Central African Republic, going house to house searching for weapons.
The operation was launched in the early morning hours in Bangui's Boy Rabe neighbourhood, the base of mostly Christian militias whose attacks have driven many minority Muslims from the city in recent weeks, sparking warnings of "ethnic cleansing".
Several automatic weapons, grenades and a large number of munitions were seized in the first hours of the operation that involved some 250 peacekeepers and police, according to an AFP correspondent on the scene.
"All people who were found to have weapons in their homes have been identified and will be handed over to the police," a peacekeeper from the African Union Misca mission told AFP.
The so-called "anti-balaka" militias were formed in the country in response to killing and pillaging by the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels following their coup nearly a year ago in the majority Christian nation.
In recent months, as international peacekeepers deployed to the former French colony have disarmed the Seleka, brutal attacks by the militias have sowed terror among the Muslim population, forcing many to flee the country.
Amnesty International this week warned that violence in Central Africa has grown into an "ethnic cleansing" campaign, while the UN refugee agency has described the situation as "a humanitarian catastrophe of unspeakable proportions".