C. Africa villages 'seized by Bozize supporters'

Armed supporters of the ousted president of Central African Republic, on Tuesday controlled villages close to Bossangoa, where fighting has killed at least 60 people, military sources said.

"Villages around Bossangoa are still held by men claiming to serve the ex-president (Francois Bozize). But the defence and security forces control the town of Bossangoa," an officer in the western town told AFP, asking not to be named.

Military sources and residents reached by telephone from Bangui reported no fighting on Tuesday morning in the region 250 kilometres (155 miles) northwest of the capital, where Bozize was ousted by the rebel Seleka coalition on March 24.

General Bozize's spokesman Levy Yakete told AFP that the battles against Seleka forces were waged by troops who considered themselves part of the former regular army (FACA) loyal to Bozize, who ruled for 10 years after a coup in 2003 and was twice elected back into office.

"By way of these attacks, the FACA have given their response to the inadmissible atrocities carried out by Selela elements against the population," Yakete said.

"This is the start of operations to restore power to president Bozize, who was democratically elected, and to reestablish constitutional order."

The Ouham administrative district, of which Bossangoa is the chief town, is Bozize's native region.

Guy-Simplice Kodegue, spokesman for the country's new ruler, Seleka chief Michel Djotodia, on Monday accused Bozize's men of "taking revenge against the Muslim population."

Kodegue reported at least 60 people killed in two days of clashes, but gave no details of the casualties. Two members of a Paris-based humanitarian organisation, ACTED, were confirmed killed while trying to evacuate civilians.

In August, Bozize said in France that he was ready to take back power "if the opportunity presents itself", adding that he preferred "political means because the force of arms only arises when a political solution is not found."

An International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA) has provided support to troops loyal to Djotodia in their attempts to rein in rogue armed movements.

But the under-funded force has only deployed 750 out of a planned 3,652 soldiers in the landlocked country roughly the size of the US state of Texas.

The latest clashes worsen a humanitarian situation that has been chaotic since Seleka took power, and Djotodia's forces are accused of repeated looting and atrocities against civilians, like other armed movements in the country.

Last week, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported that thousands of people had been displaced and at least eight villages were razed to the ground during recent violence in the north, which is largely lawless territory.

The CAR has been chronically unstable since independence from France in 1960, plagued by coups, rebellions, army mutinies and prolonged strikes by civilians.

The unrest has prevented the exploitation of resources such as uranium, gold, diamonds and oil.