By Crispin Dembassa-Kette
BANGUI (Reuters) - U.N. peacekeepers in Central African Republic used helicopters to bombard positions held by a rebel faction in a town northeast of the capital and six rebels died, the United Nations said.
The peacekeepers and French troops hit government buildings in the town of Bria occupied by the Popular Front for the Renaissance of Central Africa (FPRC), a faction of the mainly-Muslim Seleka rebels.
Thousands have been killed and around a million have been displaced from their homes in violence that has gripped the country since the Seleka took power in March 2013.
The group gave up power last year in the face of diplomatic pressure and violence by the 'anti-balaka' militia, who are mainly Christian or animist, but it still controls the northeastern portion of the landlocked country.
"We used all means including air power to liberate the public buildings that were illegally occupied by the ex-Seleka after they refused to evacuate," said Hamadoun Toure, spokesman for the U.N.'s MINUSCA mission.
"The ex-Seleka fired at us and we fired back," he said, adding that provisional figures showed that six rebels died in fighting that began this morning.
Mahouloud Moussa Moctar, a spokesman for the Seleka, said four people died including civilians and his combatants. Witnesses said helicopters attacked the rebel positions from early morning.
"The operation was carried out after the repeated refusal of armed groups to peacefully evacuated government buildings. It aimed to put an end to a parallel administration and protect civilians," said a U.N. statement.
General Arda Hakouna of the FPRC in Bria declared himself head of the military region of the northeast and kicked out local authorities including the town's mayor.
(This story corrects title of U.N. spokesman in fifth paragraph)
(Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Ralph Boulton)