BANGUI - African Union (AU) peacekeepers in the Central African Republic will treat the anti-balaka Christian militia group as enemy combatants from now, their commander has said.
Gen Jean-Marie Michel Mokoko said the decision had been taken because troops had come under attack from anti-balaka fighters.
Twenty-one peacekeepers have reportedly been killed in CAR.
The country has been hit by civil conflict since March 2013.
The anti-balaka have been accused of attacking the Muslim minority and resisting efforts by the 6,000-strong AU force, known by its acronym Misca, to disarm them.
“From now on, we consider the anti-balaka as enemies of Misca and we will treat them as such,” Gen Mokoko said, AFP news agency reports.
“They even fire on people who are here to try to end this crisis on behalf of the Central African people to which they belong,” he added.
An AU soldier was killed in Boali, 80km (50 miles) north of the capital, Bangui, on Monday, bringing to 21 the number of peacekeepers who have died in CAR since their deployment, Reuters news agency reports.
AU troops retaliated, killing 12 militiamen, it quotes an AU statement as saying.
Last week, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay warned that hatred between Christians and Muslims in CAR had reached a “terrifying level”.
The UN’s World Food Programme says that about 1.3 million people - a quarter of the population - are in need of aid.
Tens of thousands of Muslims have fled as Christian militias have stepped up their attacks since the forced resignation of CAR’s first Muslim ruler, Michel Djotodia, in January.
Interim President Catherine Samba-Panza, a Christian, has appealed for an end to the bloodshed, but with little success.
The militias claim to be taking revenge for atrocities committed by mainly Muslim rebels after Mr Djotodia seized power in March 2013.
Many Muslims have crossed the borders into neighbouring Cameroon and Chad, while thousands more are living in camps inside CAR.
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.