French fight Muslim rebels in C. African Republic

French Sangaris forces fire warning flares with a 120mm mortar against ex-Seleka elements in Bamberi, Central African Republic, Saturday May 24, 2014. Following at exchange of fire, a French combat helicopter fired a rocket and destroyed an ex-Seleka pickup. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

BAMBARI, Central African Republic (AP) — French forces in Central African Republic fired mortars and exchanged sustained gunfire Saturday with Muslim rebels who controlled the country until earlier this year.

The substantial engagement by the French in the central town of Bambari included targeting and destroying a rebel vehicle by firing on it from a Gazelle helicopter.

French forces fired warning shots and mortars as two rebel vehicles approached a bridge in the town, said a French military officer on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press.

The rebel forces maintain the French forces overreacted, saying they had only crossed the bridge to relieve a small unit they had at a checkpoint down the road.