Intense fighting in the Central African Republic killed at least 40 people Tuesday and injured dozens more, dashing hopes for stability in the strife-torn country the day after the signing of a ceasefire deal.
The violence in the central town of Bria was between members of Christian 'anti-balaka' militias and fighters formerly belonging to a coalition of Muslim-majority rebel groups called the Seleka, aid and security sources said.
The clashes erupted after the CAR government and rebel groups agreed to an immediate ceasefire Monday, a deal brokered by the Catholic community Sant'Egidio in five days of negotiations in Rome.
It was hailed as a precious chance to stabilise one of the world's most volatile and poorest countries.
Under the agreement, armed groups were granted political representation in exchange for an end to attacks and blockades.
However, intense shooting began in the early hours of Tuesday morning, with dozens taken to hospital suffering from bullet wounds, Mumuza Muhindo Musubaho, project coordinator for Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in the CAR town of Bria, said in a statement.
As of 2100 GMT, 43 people were injured, according to the charity.
"We counted at least one dead and 20 wounded among our troops, who were taken care of by the NGOs", said Djamil Babanani, spokesman for the Popular Front for the Rebirth of the Central African Republic (FPRC), an armed rebel group formerly belonging to the Muslim Seleka coalition, which had signed Monday's peace accord.
"We signed the agreement, but we have to defend ourselves, we can't allow an attack to happen without reacting," added Babanani.
"People are at home since (early Tuesday morning), shooting was still going on this morning, there is no activity going on today," said Father Gildas of the Catholic mission Saint-Louis de Bria, by telephone.
Sporadic fighting has continued since Saturday between Christian 'anti-balaka' militias and the FPRC after its leader Hamad Issa was killed in the town, according to several sources.
"We know that much remains to be done. It is vital that the ceasefire agreed to by the parties is carried out immediately," said UN special representative on CAR, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga.
Battling between armed groups in the Bria area from May 15 to 18 left five people dead, 29 wounded and more than 40,000 others displaced, according to the UN.
Clashes in Bria, Alindao, Bangassou and Mobaye, east of the capital Bangui, resulted in a total of around 300 dead and 200 wounded, according to the UN's humanitarian coordination agency OCHA.