"I can confirm to you the end of Operation Sangaris during the course of 2016," Jean-Yves Le Drian said in the capital, Bangui. He said when France launched the mission in December 2013, "the country was in the throes of civil war, torn by religious tensions, plagued by chaos, on the brink of pre-genocidal scenarios.
"In the space of two years, the Sangaris force restored calm and prevented the unacceptable."
Le Drian admitted the situation remains volatile but said, "we can finally see the country emerging from a long period of trouble and uncertainty".
The defence minister made the comments before a group of French soldiers stationed at the M'Poko airport.
The Central African Republic plunged into chaos in March 2013 when mostly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted President Francois Bozize, a Christian, and installed their leader Michel Djotodia in power for 10 months. At the time, thousands of people were dying in ethnic violence between Christians and Muslims.
A transitional government was brought in under international pressure in early 2014.
Le Drian is in the country for the swearing-in on Wednesday of new President Faustin-Archange Touadera, elected in a run-off vote on 14 February.
France, the country's former colonial power, had around 2,500 troops deployed as part of Operation Sangaris at its peak, supporting around 10,000 UN peacekeepers. This has since been reduced to about 900.
Le Drian did not indicate when the troops would be withdrawn this year, but he said the pullout would be in parallel with the buildup of the 12,000-strong UN force, MINUSCA, and a European Union's training mission.
Around 300 French troops will remain in CAR. Le Drian said they will rejoin MINUSCA and take part in the EU training mission.
International operations in CAR have been dogged by sexual scandals after a significant number of child sexual abuse allegations against French and UN troops.
- with AFP