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November 26, 2013 1:58 pm
France is to deploy at least 1,000 troops in the Central African Republic to help stem escalating disorder in its former colony, ministers said on Tuesday.
The move came less than a year after France mounted a big military operation in Mali, another former colony, to halt the threatened takeover of the country by Islamist militants.
It followed repeated warnings from Paris about the deteriorating situation in the Central African Republic, which has been in a state of lawlessness since a group of Muslim rebel movements called Seleka seized the capital Bangui in March and overthrew the Christian president.
Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister who last week said the country was “on the verge of genocide”, said on Tuesday the threat now went beyond the Central African Republic itself. “If there is a vacuum and implosion, it will affect all the countries of the region, that is to say Chad, the Sudans, Congo and Cameroon.”
France already has some 400 troops on the ground in Bangui, protecting the airport. Jean-Yves Le Drian, defence minister, said France would support a planned reinforced African-led peacekeeping force with around 1,000 troops. He did not specify whether the planned deployment included the existing French force or was additional.
An existing 2,500-strong regional peacekeeping force, which has so far failed to halt the violence, is due to be increased to 3,600, although analysts have suggested at least 6,000 troops will be needed to restore order.
“We will act in support, and not be the leaders, as we were in Mali,” Mr Le Drian said. “It will be for a brief period of around six months so the country can return to calm and dignity.”
Both ministers stressed French troops would not be deployed until after a UN Security Council resolution authorising international intervention, expected to be voted on next week. But they said the troops would be sent in rapidly as soon as they had the green light.
We will act in support, and not be the leaders, as we were in Mali
- Jean-Yves Le Drian, French defence minister
Mr Le Drian made clear that the current regime in Bangui led by President Michel Djotodia, who was installed by Seleka but subsequently lost control over the rebels, must be replaced.
“[The prime minister and president] are transitional authorities who are unable to make function a state that is collapsing. They will be replaced,” he said.
Jan Eliasson, UN deputy secretary-general, told the security council on Monday the country faced a desperate situation. “The use of child soldiers is rising and sexual violence is growing. There are widespread reports of looting, illegal checkpoints, extortion, arbitrary arrests, torture and summary executions.”
Concern about the spread of militant Islam in the Sahel and neighbouring regions prompted France’s largely successful intervention in Mali in January.
A force of several thousand French troops and an airborne campaign pushed rebel forces out of the country, with the loss to date of just seven French soldiers, making way for the election of a new president and parliament.
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