BANGUI (Reuters) - Four civilians were killed and 14 other people injured in Central African Republic on Monday when U.N. peacekeepers exchanged fire with armed men during a protest against the U.N. military presence, the United Nations said.
The clashes occurred as hundreds of protesters gathered to call for troops from the U.N. mission (MINUSCA) to leave the country. A Reuters witness saw protesters, carrying anti-U.N. posters, throwing stones and shouting at the troops who responded with warning shots.
There was then an exchange of gunfire between the troops and armed men near the crowd.
"MINUSCA intervened in the early morning hours of Monday to dismantle barricades erected by the demonstrators," the mission said in a statement. "MINUSCA believes that Monday's events constitute a new attempt by enemies of peace to disturb the return to constitutional normality," it added, adding that five peacekeepers were among the injured.
The statement did not offer further specifics on the casualties. But the president of the CAR Red Cross, Antoine Mbao-Bogo, told Reuters earlier that three protesters had been killed and six wounded by gunfire.
Central African Republic has been in chaos since early 2013 when fighting between mostly Muslim Seleka rebels and anti-Balaka Christian militias prompted the establishment of the U.N. mission MINUSCA a year later.
MINUSCA has been dogged by dozens of allegations of sexual abuse, prompting a broad U.N. inquiry. Chadian troops within the mission were accused in 2014 of killing 30 civilians in a crowded market, prompting the withdrawal of that contingent.
Criticism of the 13,000-strong mission has mounted in recent weeks with local people accusing the peacekeepers of not doing enough to protect them.
"We have seen that their mission has no use and it's just better that they leave," IT engineer Didier Fabrice Balandegue said as gunfire rang out in the background.
Civil society groups launched a petition last week calling for MINUSCA's departure and the re-arming of the national armed forces, currently subject to a weapons embargo.
Government spokesman Theodore Jousseau blamed the violence on politicians trying to destabilize the administration.
"These are embittered politicians who hide behind civil society to manipulate the population," he said.
This month, 30 people were killed and dozens wounded during an attack on refugees by Seleka forces, although violence in the capital in recent months has been rare.
(Reporting by Crispin Dembassa-Kete and Serge Leger Kokopakpa; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in New York and Abdoulaye Massalatchi in Niamey; Writing by Emma Farge and Aaron Ross; Editing by Mark Heinrich)