A mass grave has been discovered in the Central African Republic's capital Bangui, containing at least 20 bodies who had been executed at "point blank range", according to French media reports on Thursday.
France Info radio and Libération newspaper reported that the victims had been dead for at least five days.
The circumstances surrounding their deaths, and their identities, remain unclear.
The grave was found by a Red Cross team near the official residence of Central African Republic President Michel Djotodia, according to the reports. The team were alerted to the presence of the grave by the smell of the decomposing bodies.
At least 12 people have been killed in the latest wave of violence since Wednesday, with Bangui gripped by chaos which saw thousands of panicked residents fleeing for shelter to the airport, where French and African peacekeepers are based.
Earlier the medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders, MSF), had counted 36 injured at the hospital since Wednesday evening.
Top Muslim and Catholic clerics in the Central African Republic pleaded for the United Nations to "immediately dispatch" extra peacekeepers to help stop the violence, which French and African forces are struggling to contain.
In an opinion column in France's Le Monde newspaper, the Archbishop of Bangui, Dieudonne Nzapalainga, and Imam Omar Kobine Layama, said progress by the forces "has been fragile and the troops cannot bear the burden themselves".
The arrival of UN blue helmets "will eliminate the sentiment of fear and replace it with hope", they said.
France reinforces Bangui airport
The latest clashes prompted the French force to deploy armoured vehicles near the airport. The fighting subsided by late Wednesday.
On Thursday around 600 French peacekeepers were on patrol, according to French Lieutenant Colonel Sebastien Pelissier, focused on the restive neighbourhoods of Gobongo, near to the airport, and Pabongo in the southern part of the city.
A combined force of 1,600 French troops and 4,000 African Union soldiers has been struggling to restore order in the notoriously unstable nation since receiving a UN mandate in early December.
The task has been complicated by accusations that soldiers from Chad, which is mainly Muslim and which has been traditionally influential in its neighbour, have been siding with the Muslim Seleka.
The accusations have been fanned by several incidents, including one on Monday when Burundian troops in the AU force said Chadian soldiers opened fire on them as they were disarming former rebels.
The same day, Chadian peacekeepers opened fire on a stone-throwing crowd of mostly Christian protesters, killing one man and wounding around 40 more.
With tensions running high, the AU force on Wednesday said it would redeploy the Chadian contingent out of the capital to the north of the country following the deaths of at least six Chadian soldiers in Bangui.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2013-12-26