France sent special forces backed by helicopters and fighter jets to dislodge rebel fighters from Birao and a large swathe of its former colony in December, and has maintained forces in and around the town since.

"The French Mirages bombed our positions and we sustained three deaths and some wounded in our ranks," Amadine said.

 
"We responded by attacking the French positions and they have also taken several wounded."

 

Diplomats in the capital Bangui say the ill-resourced government army has full control of as little as two per cent of the country.
 

The country has been racked by years of instability with a series of coups, army mutinies and rebel uprisings.

 

Over the past 18 months, clashes have mainly been  in the northwest region where government troops have burned dozens of villages suspected of aiding rebels opposed to Francois Bozize, the president.