Four civilians were killed on Monday when protests against United Nations peacekeepers turned violent in the Central African Republic, with gunfire and looting reported across the capital Bangui, the UN said.
Five UN peacekeepers were among 14 people injured during the demonstrations called by a coalition of civil society groups to demand the withdrawal of the more than 10 000-strong Minusca force over alleged failures to stop the rise of armed militias.
The groups also organised a one-day strike in the capital to press demands for a pullout.
Minusca “intervened from the early hours of Monday in Bangui to dismantle the barricades erected by hostile demonstrators”, the UN force said in a statement.
The UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric called for calm in the capital and said that patrols would be strengthened.
The Minusca statement rejected the protests as a “smear campaign” against the peacekeeping force, and threatened “international criminal prosecution” for those accused of violence against the mission.
Armed militias have been blamed for dozens of deaths in recent weeks.
Earlier this month, 30 people were killed and 57 wounded when fighters from the Muslim Seleka militia group staged an attack in the central town of Kaga Bandoro.
A few days later, 11 people were shot dead in a camp for displaced people in Ngakobo, northeast of Bangui.
The Minusca force is seeking to support the administration of President Faustin-Archange Touadera, who was elected in February.
Gervais Lakosso, the coordinator of the civil society coalition calling for the UN to withdraw, said Monday that “wherever the UN forces go there is violence”.
“Civil society believes Minusca has shown passivity and complicity,” he added.
One of the world’s poorest countries, the Central African Republic descended into sectarian bloodshed after the March 2013 ouster of president Francois Bozize, a Christian, by the Seleka rebel alliance.
This triggered revenge attacks and a spiral of atrocities between Christian and Muslim groups in which thousands were slaughtered and a tenth of the population displaced.