A witness has said fighting between a Christian militia and French soldiers in Central African Republic has left several people dead, including some who appeared unarmed.

Dimanche Ngodi, an official in Grimari in the country's centre, told AP news agency the fighting began on Sunday between Christian fighters and former members of a Muslim rebel group. Ngodi said French forces intervened.

Captain Sebastien Isern, spokesman for the French forces, said they were conducting regular patrols in the town, which had seen significant fighting.

Isern said they were fired on by an armed group and returned fire. He did not have a death toll, only saying the group was "neutralised".

Ngodi, who witnessed the fighting, said French forces killed several fighters. He said most were armed, but three did not appear to be.

Last week, fighters from the Muslim Seleka rebels shot dead the priest of the northern town of Paoua, a church official in Bangui told Reuters news agency.


The killing came two days after Seleka gunmen briefly kidnapped the bishop of the nearby town of Bossangoa.

Virtually all Muslims have fled Bangui since Seleka, which seized power in March 2013, was forced to step aside in January.

The United Nations has since reported a "cleansing" of Muslims from the country's west.

French troops have taken the lead in trying to quell the chaos in its former colony.

The United Nations Security Council this month authorised a 12,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission to be deployed in
September, recognition that 6,000 peacekeepers from the African peacekeeping force (MISCA) and France's 2,000 strong Sangaris force had failed to stamp their authority on the country.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies