BANGUI (Reuters) - The African Union on Tuesday branded militia targeting Muslims in Central African Republic as "terrorists" and said they would be treated as enemy combatants, a day after killing a Congolese peacekeeper.
The statement suggested deepening international frustration at continuing violence in the impoverished and landlocked country despite the deployment of 2,000 French soldiers and a 6,000-strong African Union peacekeeping mission.
The AU said a peacekeeper from Republic of Congo was killed in fighting late on Monday in Boali, 80 km (50 miles) north of Bangui. AU troops killed 12 militiamen in the subsequent clashes, the statement said.
The incident is the latest in a wave of attacks on the AU peacekeepers, known as MISCA, by the 'anti-balaka' militia. "Henceforth, MISCA considers anti-balakas as terrorists and enemy combatants, and they shall be treated accordingly," the statement said.
The killing brought to 21 the total number of MISCA peacekeepers who have died in Central African Republic, the statement said.
Mainly Muslim rebels from the north seized power a year ago in Central African Republic but their rule was marked by a string of abuses on the majority Christian population, triggering waves of revenge killings that left thousands dead and displaced hundreds of thousands.
The former rebels quit power in January under intense international pressure, ceding way to an interim civilian government. But it has been powerless to halt attacks on Muslims by militia intent on driving them from the country.
(Reporting by Bate Felix; Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Daniel Flynn)