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France boosts troop levels in Central African Republic


France has begun deploying more troops and equipment to the Central African Republic ahead of a mission to restore order in the country, which has descended into chaos since a coalition of rebels ousted president François Bozize in March.


The French military has begun boosting its mission to the Central African Republic (CAR), airlifting troops and equipment to the capital Bangui ahead of an anticipated UN-backed intervention to restore order in the country, airport and diplomatic sources said.

"French military aircraft have made several round trips in the past few hours, coming mainly from Gabon, to bring in supplies," an airport source told AFP on Thursday.

The country has descended into chaos since the Seleka coalition of rebels, many of them from neighbouring Chad and Sudan, ousted president François Bozize on March 24.

The European Union has called for up to a four-fold increase in peacekeeping forces in the country.

"Clearly what needs to be done is a beefing up of peacekeeping forces, [a] tripling or quadrupling [of] what is there," EU aid chief Kristalina Georgieva said, warning of a Somalia-like state collapse and a potential genocide.

France already has around 400 troops stationed in Bangui. French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced plans Tuesday to deploy at least another 1,000 soldiers in a bid to halt mounting violence in the country, where religious clashes have aroused fears of sectarian massacres and a humanitarian crisis in the making.

New UN resolution

A draft resolution France presented at the UN Security Council on Monday aims to reinforce the African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA), with the goal of eventually turning it into a UN peacekeeping force.

The resolution calls for new financing for the 2,500-strong MISCA force and for eventually boosting its troop levels to 3,600.

France's envoy to the United Nations, Gérard Araud, has said the resolution could be passed next week.

"Many patrol vehicles and troop transports, [including] light armoured vehicles, have arrived from Cameroon by road and headed directly for the M'poko military base," a Central African military source said, referring to MISCA's headquarters near the capital.


"Ground reconnaissance missions and joint patrols are being carried out right now by teams of [French foreign] legionnaires and men from the 410-strong [French] force already located in Bangui," the source added.

The country's acting parliament named former Seleka rebel leader Michel Djotodia president in April, making him the first Muslim leader of the Christian-majority nation. His accession to power was grudgingly acknowledged by other African leaders in exchange for a political transition to democracy.

Djotodia has offically disbanded the Seleka alliance, but the motley crew of mostly Muslim insurgents has taken to looting and burning villages and killing the inhabitants who fail to flee, according to Human Rights Watch and other organisations.

In response Christian populations have formed their own militia forces that attack Muslims, who are "often traders or nomads who have nothing to do with Seleka", French researcher Roland Marchal said.


Le Drian stressed that the French intervention had "nothing to do with Mali", where Paris sent troops in January to quash an insurgency by al Qaeda-linked Islamist groups. In the CAR, the main issue "is the collapse of a state and a trend towards religious confrontation", he said.

"I'm convinced that France will not accept all these atrocities. It will put an end to all that and boost the [political] transition on a new basis and with renewed vigour," a Central African former diplomat told AFP, asking not to be named.

In the capital as well as the interior of the country, the crimes committed by ruthless bandits have reached a scale that could tip the country into civil war, according to some analysts.

In Paris, Human Rights Watch's French director Jean-Marie Fardeau on Tuesday denounced a "criminal strategy" on the part of armed groups who take advantage of the chaos to carry out "raids and massacres", but stated that "the term 'genocide' is not apt".

While calling politically for the "rapid implementation of the transitional accords" ahead of free and fair elections, France's UN draft authorises French forces in the CAR "to take all measures needed to support the MISCA".

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)


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