At least two people were killed and several wounded Saturday in sectarian violence in the capital of the Central African Republic, a military source said, the latest outbreak of unrest ahead of elections expected next month.
- At Least 2 Killed in Central Africa Violence Ahead of Polls
"Several houses were torched and heavy gunfire was heard in the Christian districts besieged by armed Muslims," he said, adding that several hundred people fled the attacks in Bangui. "Men, women and children were running in all directions," he said.
Christian militiamen and army soldiers "took positions... to protect the residents," the source said.
A dip lomat said some of the UN and French forces who intervened were engaged sporadically by small groups.
Also Saturday, transitional President Catherine Samba-Panza announced that a first round of legislative and presidential elections and a constitutional referendum would be held next month.
"There is already a consensus that these operations be held in December," she said, adding that while the latest upsurge in violence "perhaps does not jeopardise" the elections, it was "worrying".
She said the government was "counting on" UN peacekeepers and French soldiers, as well as the army, to "halt the current violence and especially to protect the people who feel a bit abandoned."
The National Authority for Elections' latest timetable proposes a constitutional referendum on December 6, to be followed by a first round of presidential and legislative elections on December 13. If a second-round run-off is called for, it would take place on January 24, 2016.
The constitutional referendum was most recently set for October 4, while the other polls had been scheduled for October 18. All had already been postponed twice.
Samba-Panza said "the legal timeframe and the current situation" precluded completing the elections this year, adding: "We have to be realistic."
The fresh unrest came two days after four people were killed and around 20 wounded in Bangui in a reprisal attack avenging the deaths of two Muslims.
One of the poorest and most unstable countries in Africa, the landlocked former French colony plunged into chaos after president Francois Bozize was ousted in a coup in March 2013.
The mainly Muslim Seleka rebels behind the coup went on a bloody rampage that triggered the emergence of equally dangerous anti-balaka (anti-machete) militias in mostly Christian communities.
Parliament appointed Samba-Panza the country's transitional leader in January 2014 until elections can be held.
Violence between members of the Christian and Muslim communities flared again in September, leaving scores dead and hundreds injured before an international force restored calm.
On Thursday, Samba Penza's office announced that the defence and public security ministers had been sacked over their handling of the unrest.