A U.N. peacekeeper died and seven civilians were killed in fighting in a refugee camp in Central African Republic, the U.N. refugee agency said Wednesday, in another outbreak of violence the same day dates were announced for long-delayed elections.
Central African Republic has been embroiled in fighting since September, with tit-for-tat militia attacks killing at least 90 in the capital.
The clashes have delayed elections and cast doubt on a planned visit by Pope Francis this month.
Fighting broke out again on Tuesday between mostly Christian anti-balaka militiamen and mainly Muslim Seleka rebels.
It began when two Muslim men visiting the Batangafo refugee camp were killed, according to Dalia Al-Achi, a spokeswoman for the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Later, former Seleka rebels entered the camp, a shelter for internally displaced people 400 kilometres (248.55 miles) north of the capital, Bangui, to retaliate for the killings, UNHCR said.
Firing gunshots and torching buildings, they killed five people, including an elderly woman who was burned to death in her home.
Some 730 huts were destroyed and 5,500 people fled, UNHCR said.
U.N. peacekeepers, who have a nearby base, exchanged gunfire with the rebels.
One peacekeeper went missing and was later found dead, the U.N. secretary-general spokesman said.
UNHCR could not immediately confirm whether the peacekeeper was included in its death toll.
“We all have a shared responsibility to protect civilians and preserve the neutrality and security of safe havens,” said Charles Mballa, UNHCR’s deputy Central African representative, in a statement.
Central African Republic descended into turmoil in March 2013, when the Seleka rebels seized power in a coup d’etat in the majority Christian country.
They later handed power to a transitional government, which was meant to steer the country to elections.
On Tuesday, interim authorities announced a timetable on Tuesday for the long-delayed presidential and parliamentary elections.
A first round of voting is scheduled for Dec. 27 and a second round, if needed, for Jan. 31.
Meanwhile, UN peacekeepers are said to have sexually abused several women and girls, some of whom are now pregnant.
“MINUSCA was informed today of allegations involving five women that had sexual relations with peacekeepers. Three of them were under 18,” said a UN official who asked not to be named.
A team from the mission will be dispatched Thursday to Bambari, north of the capital Bangui, to collect information following the allegations involving troops from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Two of the five women became pregnant as a result of the relations with the peacekeepers over several months, said the official.
The 12,000-strong MINUSCA force has faced a string of allegations of misconduct and sexual abuse with victims as young as 11.
Three months ago, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon took the unprecedented step of firing the mission chief over the wave of accusations, but several new allegations have surfaced since then.
It was at least the second time that troops from the Democratic Republic of Congo were accused of misconduct in the UN mission.
In August, three young women, one of whom was a minor, accused the Congolese soldiers of rape and Kinshasa said they would face trial.