The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic says at least three civilians are dead after members of a "hostile and armed crowd" fired upon the forces and peacekeepers returned fire.

A mission statement said Tuesday that the peacekeepers were trying to evacuate police officers who were being threatened in the volatile PK5 neighborhood of the capital, Bangui.

The statement also said a U.N. peacekeeper was wounded by a grenade in PK5, a mostly Muslim enclave that Pope Francis visited in November.

Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, the U.N. secretary-general's special representative, said Central African Republic remains at "a crucial turning point."

The U.N. mission has worked to stabilize the country for nearly two years but has been marred by allegations of sexual misconduct and violence against civilians.