File picture: AFP

Boguila - French troops had to call for air support to battle off an assault by well-armed militants in the Central African Republic on Monday, in clashes that left several gunmen dead, the military chief of staff in Paris said.

Around 40 heavily-armed militants on motorcycles and pick-up trucks swarmed the French soldiers on a road leading to the village of Boguila in the north-west of the strife-torn country, a spokesman told AFP.

“Faced with the aggressiveness of this adversary, the French force resorted to heavy arms, mortars and anti-tank missiles,” said Colonel Gilles Jaron. “There was air backup from fighter jets from N'Djamena” in neighbouring Chad.

The battle, which lasted for about three hours and stopped as darkness fell, destroyed part of the militant convoy and left several of the attackers dead, the army chief said.

No casualties were reported on the French side.

The landlocked and deeply poor country descended into conflict after a March 2013 coup by mainly Muslim rebels of the Seleka alliance, who seized power for 10 months.

Many of the ex-rebels eventually went rogue, targeting civilians and their property in vicious attacks that displaced hundreds of thousands.

In response, mostly Christian vigilantes known as “anti-balaka” were formed, going on to kill and terrorise Muslims.

France has deployed about 2 000 troops to back the 6 000 Africans of the MISCA force.

More than 100 people have been killed in a renewed bout of fighting in the past 10 days.

The medical charity Doctors Without Borders said it would reduce its work in the country after a bloody attack on a hospital. - AFP