At least 30 people have been killed and another 10 wounded in fighting between rival sectarian militias in the Central African Republic (CAR), police say.
Officials say most of those who died in the central town of Dekoa were civilians hit by stray bullets.
The predominantly Christian anti-Balaka militia attacked positions held by mainly Muslim Seleka rebels, they say.
CAR exploded into violence in early December amid mounting resentment toward a Muslim-led government.
Muslim rebels seized power in March 2013 by overthrowing President Francois Bozize – who had been in power for a decade.
The rebel leader who replaced him, President Michel Djotodia, was accused of failing to prevent his forces from raping, torturing and killing civilians – particularly among the country’s Christian majority.
When Mr Djotodia’s government fell in January, Christian militia fighters began attacking Muslim civilians in retaliation.
Thousands have been killed since the conflict began and tens of thousands more have fled the country. The UN says that about 1.3 million people – a quarter of the population – are in need of aid.
The UN Security Council is due to vote on Thursday on expanding the nearly 5,000-strong African mission in CAR into a UN peacekeeping operation.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has warned of “ethno-religious cleansing” in CAR, with lynchings, decapitations and sexual violence all going unpunished.
Some 6,000 African and 2,000 French peacekeepers are currently struggling to keep the violence in check.
Correspondents say that they face a hugely difficult task as Seleka rebels, who have been pushed north from the capital, Bangui, attempt to regroup.
French military police have, however, begun patrolling the streets of Bangui as the first part of a new European Union combat force which is expected to number 800 troops by the end of May.
In the latest violence, police said that the anti-Balaka militia attacked Seleka positions early on Tuesday morning in Dekoa, about 300km (180 miles) north of Bangui.
They said that the fighting escalated when the Seleka called in reinforcements and went on for more than four hours.
“Most of the victims were civilians who were hit by stray bullets,” a police source told the AFP news agency.
Meanwhile the US ambassador to the UN on Wednesday urged more support for African and French troops in CAR ahead the UN peacekeeping vote.
Ambassador Samantha Power – currently in CAR – said that the African peacekeeping mission was working hard to fill the gap left by the departure of about 850 troops from neighbouring Chad and were being deployed into the areas they previously guarded.
CAR is rich in gold, diamonds and other natural resources but decades of unrest and mismanagement have left most of its people stuck in poverty.
SOURCE: BBC News