Violence hits Central African Republic ahead of Pope Francis' visit

Bangui - Around a dozen people died in clashes mostly between Muslim rebels and Christian groups in the Central African Republic in the past few days, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said two weeks ahead of a visit to the country by Pope Francis.

Eight people were killed in attacks on two refugee camps while a UN peacekeeper from Cameroon was shot dead earlier this week, the agency said in a statement on Thursday.

"Armed men, presumed to be former rebels from the Seleka group, attacked an IDP (internally displaced people) site in the central city of Bambari on Thursday, killing three people, wounding more than 30 and burning some 40 shelters, according to provisional reports," the UNHCR said.

A day earlier, armed men assumed to be former rebels, killed two students in the city.

On Tuesday rebel fighters entered the Batangafo camp, reportedly to avenge the killing of two young Muslim men earlier that day, the agency said.

The rebels fired shots and torched huts and community shelters, triggering panic and killing five people, according to a preliminary report. The dead included an elderly woman who was burnt to death in her shelter.

A UN peacekeeper from Cameroon was shot dead at a checkpoint in the area later in the day.

"The events in Batangafo are another reminder that any incident can trigger spiralling violence," the refugee agency said.

Pope Francis is scheduled to visit a refugee camp and a mosque when he visits Bangui on November 29 and 30.

Bangui has been hit by violence since September 26 after the killing of a Muslim taxi driver.

CAR, with a population of 4.5 million, has an internally displaced population estimated at 399 000, while almost 460 000 have fled to neighbouring countries.

The country is due to hold presidential elections on December 27.