By Bate Felix
BANGUI (Reuters) - Heavy arms fire and gunshots rang out across the capital of Central African Republic on Friday as Christian militia forces known as 'anti-balaka' attacked Muslim neighbourhoods of Bangui, sending residents fleeing.
A spokesman for the 3,700-strong African Union peacekeeping force, MISCA, said anti-balaka fighters had attacked the PK 5 and Fatima neighbourhoods, home to the city's minority Muslim population.
An attack on Bangui by Christian militias in early December sparked a wave of bloody reprisals by the Muslim Seleka fighters who seized power in March. Hundreds of people were killed in the violence, prompting France to deploy peacekeeping troops to its former colony.
Guy-Simplice Kodegue, a spokesman for Central African Republic's interim government, said the Christian militia forces had sought to reach the centre of the riverside capital.
"All economic and social activity has stopped as panicked residents have fled to their homes," he told Reuters.
Though the deployment of 1,600 French troops to Bangui helped to restore a semblance of calm in recent days, the clashes were a reminder of the deep-rooted tensions caused by months of massacres, rapes and looting following Seleka's seizure of power.
The MISCA spokesman said that one Chadian peacekeeper injured in an attack on a MISCA patrol on Thursday had died of his wounds.
Speaking in Brussels, French President Francois Hollande repeated calls for other European nations to help restore order in the landlocked African nation of 4.6 million people.
"France is undertaking the most dangerous part of the mission, but we hope that there will be a European presence at our side," he said.
Under the terms of a U.N. resolution passed on December 5, France hopes to hand over responsibility to security to the MISCA forces in six months. The African Union force is due to reach 6,000 troops by the end of January.
"We could even foresee that force could go up to 9,000," said Hollande, who hosted a summit in Paris this month to convince African nations to send more forces.
Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said on her Twitter feed that Rwanda's armed forces were preparing to send troops after the African Union asked her country to participate.
Rwanda has been a strong supporter of a peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic, where the religious and ethnic violence has stirred memories of its own 1994 genocide in which 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutus were killed.