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French forces and rebels in shoot-out

FRENCH troops have exchanged fire with former rebels in the Central African Republic's capital Bangui as they sought to disarm fighters following violence in which hundreds have been killed.

France yesterday began operations to disarm, by force if necessary, mainly Muslim Seleka fighters and rival Christian militias, setting up checkpoints on Bangui's main roads and searching vehicles for weapons.

Shooting erupted near the airport after Seleka gunmen refused to hand over their weapons, a spokesman for the Multinational Force of Central Africa (Fomac) peacekeepers said.

"I'm here now. The Seleka [ex-rebels] didn't want to disarm. There was a brief exchange of fire, and they ran away," Celestin Christ Leon said.

In Paris, a spokesman for the French army joint staff said the incident was "insignificant" and had lasted less than 10 minutes.

"The disarmament ­operations have started. Things are going well," Colonel Gilles Jaron said, adding that French troops had already arrested 10 men and seized weapons.

France has sent 1600 troops to end months of instability in its former colony.

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