, BANGUI, March 25- At least 15 people have been killed in the Central African Republic capital of Bangui since Saturday as a result of clashes involving armed groups and foreign peacekeepers, officials and residents said Tuesday.
“At least 15 bodies have been picked up by Red Cross volunteers at the scene of the fighting,” on the outskirts of the commercial PK-5 district, a Central African Red Cross offical told AFP, asking not to be named.
Muslim residents have been besieged for weeks by the majority Christian “anti-balaka” militia and by looters in this part of the city. Fighting between the rival communities broke out at the weekend.
On Tuesday morning, a brief bout of gunfire broke out in PK-5, where soldiers of an African Union intervention force (MISCA) have been deployed, backed by French troops of Operation Sangaris. Both forces are working to disarm militia fighters.
During the fighting since the weekend, both French and African troops opened fire, according to military sources. They shot dead eight members of the anti-balaka, including a militia leader, local residents told AFP.
On Monday, which was the first anniversary of the ouster of president François Bozize by the mainly Muslim Seleka rebel alliance that went on to rule for 10 months, MISCA and French soldiers were deployed in strength around Bangui.
Almost 2,000 French troops have been sent to the Central African Republic, a landlocked and poor nation plunged into chaos, to support 6,000 MISCA soldiers in a bid to restore a modicum of security.
However, anti-balaka militias, which were first formed as self-defence groups in response to atrocities carried out by mainly Muslim forces, persistently attack areas where Muslims live, leading to an exodus of hundreds of thousands of people.
Entire regions have been abandoned by a minority Muslim population that for decades lived peacefully alongside Christians, once the conflict took on unprecedented ethnic and religious dimensions.
The former French colony has a transitional government tasked with helping to restore order and lead the CAR to elections, but much of the machinery of state no longer functions and UN agencies and relief charities have repeatedly warned of a major humanitarian crisis.