BANGUI Three people were killed and several wounded in Central African Republic's capital Bangui on Wednesday in clashes between security forces and former rebel fighters, police and government officials said.
The country has descended into chaos since northern Seleka rebels seized Bangui in March, ousting President Francois Bozize and igniting sectarian violence between Muslims and Christians.
United Nations officials say both sides may have committed war crimes and warned this month that the killings risked spiraling into genocide.
Wednesday's violence erupted in the Fatima neighborhood after demonstrators threw stones at the motorcade of transitional President Michel Djotodia, whom Seleka brought to power.
The demonstrators said the protest, in which they burned tires and blocked roads, followed the abduction of a local resident by Seleka.
"This attitude angered the Seleka elements who returned to the neighborhood and fired shots to disperse the protesters, injuring several of them," Selemane Adjar, head of Djotodia's communications department, said.
Police and members of the paramilitary gendarme force intervened and opened fire on the former rebels, whose movement Djotodia dissolved earlier this year in a failed effort to reestablish order.
"(The Seleka fighters) withdrew after two of their own were killed. Our men lost one gendarme," a police officer involved in the exchange of fire told Reuters, asking not to be named.
Central African Republic is rich in gold, diamonds and uranium but decades of instability and the spillover from conflicts in its larger neighbors have left the country mired in crises.
The African Union plans to deploy a 3,600-member peacekeeping mission, known as MISCA, in the country. It would incorporate a regional force of 1,100 soldiers on the ground but is unlikely to be operational before 2014.
The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution last month asking U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to submit a report within 30 days to outline possible international support to the AU peacekeeping mission. It also asked Ban to study the option of transforming MISCA into a U.N. peacekeeping operation.
(Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Emma Farge and Janet Lawrence)