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French troops trade fire with ex-rebels in Central African Republic

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[December 09, 2013]  BANGUI (Reuters) French troops traded fire with former rebels in Central African Republic's capital Bangui on Monday as they sought to disarm fighters after violence in which hundreds have been killed, a peacekeeping force official said.

France began operations to disarm, by force if necessary, mainly Muslim Seleka fighters and rival Christian militias on Monday, 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 1,600 troops to end months of instability in its former colony after bloodshed between Muslims and Christians last week.

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At least 459 people have been killed in Bangui alone since Thursday, according to the local Red Cross.

(Reporting by Emmanuel Braun; additional reporting by Marine Pennetier in Paris, writing by Joe Bavier; editing by Emma Farge and Angus MacSwan)

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