World

French military chief visits chaotic Central African Republic

  • FOMAC troops , regional peacekeepers, evacuate Muslim clerics under a hail of fire from the St Jacques Church in Bangui, Central African Republic, Thursday Dec. 12, 2013. An angry crowd had gathered outside the church following rumors that a Seleka general was inside.  More than 500 people have been killed over the past week in sectarian fighting in Central African Republic. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

    FOMAC troops , regional peacekeepers, evacuate Muslim clerics under a hail of fire from the St Jacques Church in Bangui, Central African Republic, Thursday Dec. 12, 2013. An angry crowd had gathered outside the church following rumors that a Seleka general was inside. More than 500 people have been killed over the past week in sectarian fighting in Central African Republic. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)  (The Associated Press)

  • A FOMAC  regional peacekeeper screams for a cease fire as troops fire their guns to secure the evacuation of  Muslim clerics from the St Jacques Church in Bangui, Central African Republic, Thursday Dec. 12, 2013. An angry crowd had gathered outside the church following rumors that a Seleka general was inside.  More than 500 people have been killed over the past week in sectarian fighting in Central African Republic. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

    A FOMAC regional peacekeeper screams for a cease fire as troops fire their guns to secure the evacuation of Muslim clerics from the St Jacques Church in Bangui, Central African Republic, Thursday Dec. 12, 2013. An angry crowd had gathered outside the church following rumors that a Seleka general was inside. More than 500 people have been killed over the past week in sectarian fighting in Central African Republic. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)  (The Associated Press)

  • Angry crowd move a tree trunk to try to prevent FOMAC troops, regional peacekeepers, from evacating Muslim clerics from the St Jacques Church in Bangui, Central African Republic, Thursday Dec. 12, 2013. An angry crowd had gathered outside the church following rumors that a Seleka general was inside.  More than 500 people have been killed over the past week in sectarian fighting in Central African Republic. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

    Angry crowd move a tree trunk to try to prevent FOMAC troops, regional peacekeepers, from evacating Muslim clerics from the St Jacques Church in Bangui, Central African Republic, Thursday Dec. 12, 2013. An angry crowd had gathered outside the church following rumors that a Seleka general was inside. More than 500 people have been killed over the past week in sectarian fighting in Central African Republic. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)  (The Associated Press)

France's military says Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has arrived on a surprise visit, within hours of a gunfight in the chaotic capital that drew French troops into a neighborhood rife with sectarian tensions.

His arrival Friday comes amid continued unrest in the capital, Bangui. France is deploying 1,600 soldiers to bolster regional African peacekeepers, trying to stabilize the country after more than 500 people died last week.

The impoverished country has descended into near-anarchy since March, when rebel groups overthrew the government. French forces trying to disarm Bangui face backlash from residents terrified to give up weapons they could use to defend themselves.

Early Friday, French forces traded fire with suspected ex-rebels holed up in a volatile neighborhood. Violence erupted after the overnight death of a Christian taxi driver.