BANGUI, March 25 (Reuters) - The African Union on Tuesday branded militia targeting Muslims in Central African Republic as "terrorists" and said they would be treated as enemy combatants, a day after a Congolese peacekeeper was killed.
The statement suggested deepening international frustration at continuing violence in the impoverished and landlocked country despite the deployment of 2,000 French soldiers and a 6,000-strong African Union peacekeeping mission.
The AU said a peacekeeper from Republic of Congo was killed in fighting late on Monday in Boali, 80 km (50 miles) north of Bangui. AU troops killed 12 militiamen in subsequent clashes, the statement said.
The incident is the latest in a wave of attacks on the AU peacekeepers, known as MISCA, by the 'anti-balaka' militia now roaming much of the capital and the rest of the former French colony, a sparsely populated nation of 4.5 million people.
"Henceforth, MISCA considers anti-balakas as terrorists and enemy combatants, and they shall be treated accordingly," the statement said.
The killing brought to 21 the number of MISCA peacekeepers who have died in Central African Republic, the statement added.
Mainly Muslim rebels from the north seized power a year ago in Central African Republic but their rule was marked by a string of abuses on the majority Christian population, triggering waves of revenge killings that left thousands dead and displaced hundreds of thousands.
The former rebels quit power in January under international pressure, giving way to an interim civilian government. But it has been powerless to halt attacks on Muslims by militia intent on driving them from the country.
The United Nations estimates about 15,000 Muslims are still trapped in Bangui and other areas in the north, northwest and south of the country, protected by international forces.
Heavy weapons fire rang out and grenades exploded as fighting gripped parts of the capital over the weekend, killing at least nine people, according to the local Red Cross.
Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said its teams treated 38 people injured by bullets, explosions or machetes.
"These renewed attacks show that the violence in Bangui is not over yet, despite the continued presence of international forces," said Hakim Chkam, MSF's head of mission in CAR.
The U.N.'s top human rights official warned last week that hatred between Christians and Muslims in Central African Republic had reached a "terrifying level".
Navi Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, appealed to the international community to urgently provide troops for a proposed 12,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission.
Earlier this month, France accused the European Union of shirking its responsibility after an EU plan to send 1,000 troops to Central African Republic to back French and African peacekeepers seemed on the verge of collapsing.
General Philippe Ponties, the man tasked with leading the mission, conceded that tensions over the crisis in Ukraine had led to delays but the EU now aims to deploy troops by the end of next month.
(Reporting by Bate Felix; Additional reporting and writing by David Lewis; Editing by Janet Lawrence)
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