UN peacekeepers have deployed in the west of Central African Republic following surprise attacks by powerful armed groups involved in “a deliberate attempt to disrupt” upcoming elections in one of the world’s poorest and most troubled nations. The UN mission to the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) said it deployed forces on Friday following an offensive by the 3R, Patriotic Movement for Central Africa (MPC) and “anti-Balaka” militias. “The mission emphasises that these coordinated attacks in well-identified areas involve a deliberate attempt to disrupt the elections,” said the mission, which has 11,500 peacekeepers in the country. The militias have accused President Faustin Archange Touadera of seeking to fix the planned legislative and presidential elections — due to take place on December 27 — and have warned of a violent response. According to humanitarian and UN sources, armed groups have seized several localities along routes serving the capital Bangui, which is now threatened by a blockade. “Reinforcement of the MINUSCA resources, including with air assets, is a response to the violence committed by these armed groups and which also affected Yaloke and Bozoum”, towns just over 200 kilometres from Bangui, killing two members of government forces, the UN mission said. Bozize, who recently returned after years in exile, has been barred from running in the election by the country’s top court as he had been sought in a international arrest warrant filed by the CAR on charges including murder, arbitrary arrest and torture. Crucial test The ballot is a crucial test for one of Africa’s most volatile countries, which spiralled into conflict in 2013 when Bozize was ousted by the Seleka, a rebel coalition drawn largely from the Muslim minority. The coup triggered a bloodbath between the Seleka and so-called “anti-Balaka” self-defence forces, mainly Christian and animist. France intervened militarily in its former colony and after a transitional period elections were held in 2016 and won by Touadera. Inter-communal fighting has receded in intensity in the last two years, but militia groups hold sway over two-thirds of the country, often fighting over resources.