BANGUI (Reuters) - U.N. peacekeepers and French forces in Central African Republic used helicopters to bombard a rebel position in a town northeast of the capital and seven rebels died, the United Nations said.
The troops dislodged the rebels of the Popular Front for the Renaissance of Central Africa (FPRC), a faction of the mainly-Muslim Seleka, from government buildings they held in the town of Bria.
Thousands have been killed and around a million displaced from their homes in violence that has gripped the impoverished landlocked country since the Seleka took power in March 2013.
The group gave up power last year in the face of diplomatic pressure and violence by the “anti-balaka” militia, who are mainly Christian or animist, but it still controls the northeastern portion of the country.
“We used all means including air power to liberate the public buildings that were illegally occupied by the ex-Seleka after they refused to evacuate,” said Hamadoun Toure, spokesman for the U.N.’s MINUSCA mission.
He said the rebels fired first and put a provisional death toll at seven rebels killed.
France used several helicopters and the United Nations provided intelligence for the operation, a French defence ministry statement said.
“After several hours of combat, the prefecture, the sub-prefecture, the government office building and all the other local government buildings were freed and then searched by international forces,” the statement said.
Mahouloud Moussa Moctar, a spokesman for the Seleka, said four people died including civilians and his combatants. Witnesses said helicopters attacked the rebel positions from early morning.
“The operation was carried out after the repeated refusal of armed groups to peacefully evacuate government buildings. It aimed to put an end to a parallel administration and protect civilians,” a U.N. statement said.
General Arda Hakouna of the FPRC in Bria declared himself head of the military region of the northeast and kicked out local authorities including the town’s mayor.
Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg/Mark Heinrich