France's defense chief says military operations began overnight in Central African Republic, with patrols and a helicopter detachment arriving to quell violence in the streets of the capital.

Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told Radio France Internationale that the streets of Bangui were calm on Friday, after a spasm of bloodshed that began before dawn Thursday and left nearly 100 people dead.

The ambush of armed Christian fighters on Muslim neighborhoods of Bangui, the capital, came hours before the United Nations voted to send French troops to stabilize Central African Republic.

Le Drian said the immediate goal is to keep the streets safe.

"You have to ensure that the vandals, the bandits and the militias know they can't use the streets of Bangui for their battles," he said.