Fighting between international peacekeepers in the capital of Central African Republic and local armed men has killed one Red Cross volunteer and injured at least 31 people, according to emergency services.
Wednesday’s clashes broke out after residents of the PK-5 neighbourhood in Bangui accused the European Union force (EUFOR) of shooting dead a man late on Tuesday.
The neighbourhood is home to some 2,000 Muslims who have braved sectarian violence to remain in the capital. EUFOR said in a statement that one of its patrols had opened fire after it was attacked in PK-5 district.
A crowd of protesters brought a man’s body to UN headquarters on Wednesday, saying he had been shot dead by EUFOR in his home, before taking him to a mosque in the PK-5 neighbourhood.
Shortly afterwards, heavy gunfire and shelling was heard around the PK-5 neighbourhood, residents and Medecins Sans Frontiers reported.
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement said one of its volunteers , Bienvenu Bandios, was shot dead while evacuating casualties from PK-5.
“We are greatly dismayed by this tragic loss of life,” Antoine Mbao Bogo, president of the Central African Red Cross, said in a statement.
The medical charity Doctors Without Borders said its team in the General Hospital had received 31 injured from gunshot wounds and its team in PK5 had been forced to seek shelter.
“Ten critically wounded patients will receive surgery today,” the charity’s deputy head of mission, Claude Cafardy, said in a statement.
Bangui residents said a helicopter from the France’s separate Sangaris peacekeeping mission flew over PK-5 on Wednesday, as gunfire sounded. It was not clear who was firing.
Arun Gaye, a trader in PK-5, said by telephone the helicopter had opened fire on people on the ground, but a Sangaris official denied this.
The country, a former French colony, has been gripped by violence since Seleka, a coalition of mostly Muslim rebels and some fighters from neighbouring Chad and Sudan, seized power in March 2013.
Seleka’s rule was marked by abuses that prompted the creation of the anti-balaka militia. Cycles of tit-for-tat violence have continued despite Seleka leader Michel Djotodia resigning the presidency in January under international pressure.
EUFOR, a mission composed of mainly French soldiers but also troops from Spain, Finland Italy and Georgia, was sent in 2007 to help stem deadly sectarian violence in the country.
About 2,000 French and 6,000 Africa Union peacekeepers have been deployed to Central African Republic, but they have struggled to help the weak transitional government stamp its authority on the mineral-rich country.
A 12,000-strong UN peacekeeping force is due to start deploying next month, with much of its staff coming from the existing African mission.