FILE - A man from the Peul tribe stands in front of cattle at a village outside Bambari May 30, 2014.
FILE - A man from the Peul tribe stands in front of cattle at a village outside Bambari May 30, 2014.

An international rights group said members of a nomadic Muslim group in the Central African Republic are being held captive by radical Christian fighters and are at risk of sexual violence.

Human Rights Watch reported Wednesday that the Christian anti-balaka fighters are holding at least 42 Muslim Peuhl, mostly women and children, in southwest C.A.R., and committing acts that amount to war crimes.

Researcher Lewis Mudge, with HRW, said the anti-balaka fighters are sexually enslaving women and killing children, tactics he called "shocking." He said U.N. peacekeepers should now intervene to free the hostages and bring their captors to justice.

The statement follows the rescue April 4-5 of a group of 13 Peuhl held hostage by anti-balaka fighters in the southwestern village of Pondo.

U.N. peacekeepers said the captors killed two young boys and raped three women, one of whom became pregnant and died in childbirth. Her baby later died of malnutrition.

The rescued Peuhl said that anti-balaka fighters are holding more captives in towns and villages near Pondo, where they, too, may be in danger of murder and sexual assault by their captors.

Human Rights Watch said reports by the recently freed captives, witnesses and other sources indicate dozens of other Peuhl are being held, some for more than a year.

The rights group called on the U.N. and government officials to "urgently intervene" to free the other Peuhl  and arrest their captors.

The anti-balaka - meaning anti-sword or anti-machete - fighters have killed or targeted thousands of Muslims since 2013, when they organized to fight the Muslim Seleka rebels who seized power earlier that year. The reprisal attacks take advantage of the fact that Peuhl are herders whose nomadic ways make them vulnerable to capture.