French President François Hollande arrived in the Central African Republic’s capital Bangui on Friday, nearly three months into a military operation to stop inter-religious fighting that has proven more difficult than anticipated.
Hollande met with French troops upon arriving in the country, whom he praised for their service.
“Already, thousands of lives have been saved thanks to you,” he said, adding that the situation in Bangui had improved significantly.
He stressed, however, that “the partition of the country should be avoided at all costs”.
‘We’ve seen considerable progress in three months,’ Hollande says
Hollande’s trip comes after the French parliament voted earlier this week to extend its mission in Central Africa Republic (CAR) beyond an April deadline, as its troops struggle to stem the fighting between the country’s Christian and Muslim communities.
France first deployed 1,600 soldiers to CAR in December, hoping for a swift intervention. That force is now set to increase by an additional 400 troops, supporting a 6,000-strong African Union peacekeeping mission.
CAR’s interim president Catherine Samba-Panza has urged France and the African Union to make full use of their UN mandate to end the violence, which has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people and displaced nearly a million others.
It is not Hollande’s first trip to CAR in recent months. He visited the former colony for the first time in early December, just days after French troops poured into the country to the cheers of villagers.
Now three months later, however, the fighting has continued to escalate, raising fears that the crisis may turn into an ethnic cleansing.
"No need to come Mr Hollande, we're already dead," said one Muslim woman in a Bangui street when asked about the French president's visit.
The former French colony has been torn by inter-religious violence since Seleka, a coalition of mostly Muslim northern rebels, seized power in March and unleashed a wave of looting and killings.
Christian militia known as “anti-balaka”, which means “anti-machete” in the local sango language, have exacted brutal reprisals against the Muslim minority whom they accuse of supporting the rebels.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-02-28