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Two French soldiers have been killed in the Central African Republic's capital, the presidency said Tuesday, the first reported casualties since a military operation began last week to restore order in the troubled country.
The two paratroopers were on a night patrol near the airport when they were injured in a clash, parliamentary speaker Claude Bartolone said after a meeting with the prime minister, adding they could not be saved.
"With much sadness, the president learned of the deaths in combat of two French soldiers last night in Bangui," French President Francois Hollande's office said in a statement.
"They lost their lives to save many others.
"The president expresses his profound respect for the sacrifice of these two soldiers and renews his full confidence in the French forces committed -- alongside African forces -- to restoring security in the Central African Republic, to protecting the people and guaranteeing access to humanitarian aid."
France has deployed 1,600 soldiers to its notoriously unstable former colony, a resource-rich but impoverished majority Christian nation that was plunged into chaos after mainly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in a March coup.
The troops are part of a UN-mandated effort to restore order, with the African Union also due to beef up an existing peacekeeping mission to 6,000 men.
On Monday, they began disarming fighters in Central Africa after a wave of sectarian violence in the capital left nearly 400 people dead.
According to Bartolone, speaker of the National Assembly, the two soldiers were involved in a clash near Bangui airport.
"They were injured and very quickly taken to the surgical unit but unfortunately, they could not be saved," he said after the briefing on the CAR.
Hollande, who is attending Nelson Mandela's memorial service in South Africa, will travel to Bangui later on Tuesday with Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.
© 2013 AFP
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