2 French soldiers die in CAR combat
Two French soldiers have been killed in combat in the capital of the Central African Republic, President Francois Hollande's office announced today.
They are the first French casualties since he ordered a stepped-up military presence in the volatile former colony to help quell inter-religious violence.
The presidential Elysee Palace, in a statement, gave no details about the killings in Bangui late yesterday other than that the troops died during France's mission to restore security, protect civilians, and ensure access for humanitarian groups in the impoverished country.
French officials have warned of the dangers of the enhanced military mission alongside African Union troops, authorised under a muscular mandate approved last week by the United Nations Security Council. France's defence minister has warned militia groups to disarm peacefully - or French troops will do it by force.
The announcement of the soldiers' deaths came shortly after the presidential palace said Mr Hollande would travel to the Central African Republic later today after attending the Nelson Mandela memorial service in South Africa.
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said French forces were carrying out patrols by foot and vehicle through the dusty streets of Bangui. At one point, they intervened to pull away a Muslim man, who claimed to be a merchant, from a mob that accused him of being a rebel leader.
Muslim rebels known as Seleka overthrew the government of the majority Christian nation nine months ago.
Bouts of violence in Central African Republic took an especially bloody turn last week with more than 400 deaths in two days of violence between Christians and Muslims. World leaders including US President Barack Obama have called for calm.