Bangui - At least 16 people were killed when African peacekeepers battled Christian anti-balaka vigilante groups refusing to disarm in Central African Republic, the national Red Cross said on Wednesday.
The Red Cross counted another 15 heavily injured people, while aid organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres counted three dead and 38 injured.
Soldiers of the African-led International Support Mission to CAR (MISCA) have been battling anti-balaka fighters since Saturday in the capital Bangui with machine guns and grenades.
“MISCA has to use force against the anti-balaka because they compromise the MISCA's work in (capital) Bangui and other towns,” MISCA commander General Jean Marie Mokoko told private radio station Ndeke Luka.
Mokoko said anti-balaka undermined the work of the 1 600 French and 5 500 African Union peacekeepers in the conflict-torn nation where more than 1 000 people have been killed and 1 million displaced in the past 15 months.
Anti-Balaka fighters had killed an African peacekeeper in the town of Boali, 95 kilometres north of capital Bangui, Mokoko added.
“The renewed clashes show that the conflict in CAR is not yet over,” said MSF CAR principal Hakim Chkam.
Humanitarian agencies said fighting was hampering aid deliveries and the collection of dead bodies, especially in the Muslim-dominated neighbourhoods PK5 and PK12.
CAR has been in turmoil since Muslim Seleka fighters rose up against the government in December 2012 and overthrew then-president Francois Bozize, a Christian, in March 2013.
The country descended into a bloody conflict between the Muslim fighters and Christian vigilante groups.
Almost all of the country's 4.6 million people are in need of humanitarian aid, according to the EU. - Sapa-dpa