Africa

CAR crisis: French troops in Bangui airport battle

French troops being briefed at camp in Cameroon
Image caption French troops in other parts of the region are being sent to the CAR

French troops in the Central African Republic have fought a battle near Bangui airport, it has emerged.

A French military spokesman said an armed truck was destroyed after opening fire on troops and civilians who had sought refuge with the French soldiers.

The attack happened on Thursday before the UN approved a French-led mission to protect civilians and quell violence.

A detachment of French helicopters headed for Bangui after the decision, and the UK will send a transport plane.

More than 100 people died on Thursday in fighting between former rebels and supporters of the ousted president, Francois Bozize.

"At dawn [on Thursday], an armed pick-up opened fire three times in the direction of civilians and French troops. After the third time, we retaliated and destroyed the vehicle," French military spokesman Col Gilles Jaron told AFP news agency.

At least two armed men were shot during the attack, but there were no injuries among civilians or soldiers, the military added.

Several hundred civilians had fled to near the airport to seek the protection of about 400 French troops stationed there.

Sectarian violence

Hours after Thursday's attack, French President Francois Hollande said he was acting "immediately" to double the 650-strong French contingent.

"The operation has begun insofar as the French forces that were already present at Bangui airport with a mandate limited to protect that airport and our nationals last night started patrols in Bangui," Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told RFI radio.

He said that a helicopter group was due to be in place later in the day.

And on Friday UK Foreign Secretary William Hague send he was sending a C-17 transport aircraft to help the French military effort. It will make three flights in December.

The BBC's Andrew Harding, in Bangui, says violence in the CAR is increasingly pitting Christians against Muslims.

For now, it appears that forces linked to the Seleka alliance remain in control, our correspondent says, adding that the situation is fluid and unstable, and there are deep concerns about more inter-communal violence across the country.

An existing peacekeeping force about 2,500 strong, the International Support Mission in Central Africa (Misca), is already in place.

It is now working under a 12-month UN mandate and will increase to some 3,600 African soldiers, in addition to the 1,200-strong French force.

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