C. Africa clashes kill five, wound dozens

French soldiers patrol in the Fatima area of Bangui on July 8, 2014
French soldiers patrol in the Fatima area of Bangui on July 8, 2014 (AFP Photo/Stephane de Sakutin)

Bangui (Central African Republic) (AFP) - Five people have been killed in fighting this week between armed militants and French peacekeepers in the capital of the Central African Republic, a hospital source said Thursday.

The clashes came after several weeks of calm in the city, where peacekeeping forces have frequently been involved in deadly firefights with rival militias and taken steps to to disarm them.

The fighting between unidentified gunmen and French troops from the European Union's Eufor mission, which began deploying in April, erupted on Tuesday.

It coincided with a call by the UN peacekeeping chief for the country, Babacar Gaye, for a new government to lead the country out of ethnic and religious strife and towards elections.

Nearly 40 people were also wounded in the clashes, Maurice Banda, a staff member at Bangui's community hospital, told AFP.

France and African Union countries deployed troops in the poor and chronically unstable country last December, nine months after the mainly Muslim rebel Seleka alliance ousted president Francois Bozize and placed one of their leaders, Michel Djotodia, in power.

Djotodia stepped down in January under international pressure for failing to halt widespread atrocities against civilians by rogue rebels, which also led to the emergence of "anti-balaka" (anti-machete) vigilante forces in Christian majority communities, bent on vengeance against Muslims.

The Eufor troops were attacked this week during a patrol of PK5, the last remaining Muslim district in Bangui after most Muslims fled the city to escape the anti-balaka militias.

The sudden outbreak of violence came after weeks of calm and the signing of a ceasefire pact in July. The accord has been breached several times and the former military wing of the Seleka refused to recognise it.

Brutal attacks on civilians by armed groups in almost a year and a half have claimed thousands of lives, while around a quarter of the population of 4.5 million have fled their homes.

From September 15, a UN stabilisation mission for the CAR, known by its French acronym MINUSCA, will gradually start to deploy in place of the French, African and European forces, until some 12,000 personnel are on the ground.