Two young boys run to protect themselves in the "Combattant" district close to the airport in Bangui on Wednesday. Heavy arms fire triggered panic in the Central African Republic capital, prompting a French force to deploy tanks near the airport. Photo: AFP
Five Chadian peacekeepers have died in clashes in the Central African Republic (CAR) capital Bangui, where French troops on Thursday were out in force a day after heavy gunfire sowed panic in the city.
The circumstances of the Chadian deaths in Bangui, which occurred on Wednesday as chaos and fighting gripped the city, were unclear, a spokesman of the African Union force of which they were part told AFP.
"Yesterday, the city was in total chaos and this chaos lasted until the end of the night. Today we are trying to understand what happened," said Eloi Yao.
The Chadian contingent of the African Union peacekeeping force has been accused of siding with a mostly Muslim former rebel group in the strife-torn majority Christian country.
Heavy arms fire erupted in Bangui on Wednesday triggering panic, with thousands streaming to the airport, where French and African peacekeepers are based and where tens of thousands of civilians have already sought shelter from the violence wracking their city.
The clashes prompted the French force to deploy armored vehicles near the airport.
The fighting subsided by late evening and on Thursday French peacekeepers were out in force in the streets of the capital that were still largely deserted.
At least a dozen civilians have been killed since Wednesday in a new wave of violence in Bangui, a hospital official said. "The Red Cross has brought at least a dozen bodies" to the morgue at Bangui's main hospital, the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.