A United Nations peacekeeper from Pakistan has been killed, and eight others were wounded in an ambush in the capital of Central African Republic, bringing the death toll in two days of fighting to at least nine, according to the UN and the country’s Red Cross.
Gunfire and explosions rang out in Bangui on Thursday, emptying streets, closing shops and blocking roads in unrest that appeared to centre on the mainly Muslim KM-5 neighbourhood.
Human Rights Watch said the violence is the most serious in months in a country where thousands have died and more than one million have fled in two years of conflict over power and resources.
In all, 25 people excluding peacekeepers have been wounded since Tuesday, the Red Cross said.
Soldiers from the French and UN peacekeeping mission patrolled the KM-5 area, witnesses said. The ambush, however, occurred in the KM-11 neighbourhood on the outskirts of the city.
A peacekeeper was seriously wounded in that attack on troops from Pakistan and Bangladesh and seven others were also lightly wounded, said the head of the UN mission, General Babacar Gaye.
He condemned the attack and called for dialogue.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, Simon Adams, executive director at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, said the situation “has been deteriorating very quickly”.
The UN in mid-September took over the peacekeeping mission that was previously run by the African Union.
Central African Republic, which is poor despite gold and diamond reserves, was plunged into chaos as mostly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in March 2013.
Their rule was marked by abuses that prompted a backlash from Christian and animist militia known as “anti-balaka”.
France sent troops to its former colony and an existing African peacekeeping force was beefed up.
De facto partition
Sporadic violence has continued despite the Seleka leader’s resignation from the presidency in January and the formation of a transition government led by Catherine Samba-Panza.
Anti-balaka militia are trying to take over KM-5 but are being repulsed by Muslim fighters and peacekeepers, said Mohamed Dhaffane, a vice president of former Seleka group.
Most Muslims have fled the south of the country, creating a de facto partition and exacerbating the fears of those who remain in the capital.
Some members of the Seleka leadership have pushed for the partition to be formalised.
The fighting forced the country’s Red Cross branch to suspend its operations to retrieve dead and wounded.
Its head, Pastor Antoine Mbao Bogo, later said seven died and 25 were wounded in the capital this week. By evening, gunfire had died down, a witness said.
To add to political tension, the two anti-balaka ministers resigned from Samba-Panza’s government, heeding a call from their group to quit, an anti balaka leader told Reuters news agency.
The group and some Seleka members have called for her to step down.
Communications Minister Antoinette Montaigne said the violence was an attempt force the president to resign.