Bangui: The Central African defence minister has called on all residents of the capital Bangui to hand in any weapons or be considered military targets.

Theophile Timangoa asked the population in a statement read out on state radio late Tuesday “to lay down your arms unconditionally and wait for the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programme.”

“As part of its mission to protect people and property, the army will treat violators as military targets,” the minister said.

He called for this latest disarmament drive to be jointly conducted by the Central African Republic’s regular forces, French and African Union troops.

Timangoa also condemned the death of a low-ranking officer who he said was “coldly killed by armed individuals” on Tuesday in Bangui’s flashpoint PK5 district.

Tension has been high for days in the neighbourhood, where witnesses reported that an intense exchange of fire broke out on Tuesday, causing many residents to flee their homes.

The country has been torn by ethnic and religious violence since months of abuses by mainly Muslim former rebels prompted the formation of Christian vigilante groups.

Both sides are responsible for massacres and looting that have forced nearly a quarter of the population from their homes and triggered a huge humanitarian crisis.

French forces tried to disarm militiamen in Bangui soon after deploying in December 2013 but the cycle of religious killings and revenge attacks continued almost unabated.