VIDEO: On patrol with the French army in the CAR
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Around 1,600 French soldiers have been deployed in a mission to try to secure the Central African Republic (CAR). FRANCE 24’s Matthieu Mabin and Alexander Turnbull join a French patrol on the streets of the CAR capital of Bangui.
A little girl in a faded red tank-top screamed in anguish when she caught sight of French troops at a compound in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic.
“They killed my parents. We have become orphans,” she cried before sinking to her knees in despair. “They killed my father. Why? Why? He didn’t do anything.”
Over the past few months, the Central African Republic (CAR) has witnessed the sort of brutality and horror the international community had hoped was a thing of the past.
Casualty figures in the remote, lawless country with a population of about 5 million people have been hard to come by. But on Sunday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that in the past three days alone, nearly 400 people were killed in Bangui.
Traumatised by the violence, Central Africans have welcomed French troops who arrived in the former French colony to assist African Union forces attempting to secure the country. Around 1,600 French soldiers have been deployed across the CAR.
A FRANCE 24 team, embedded with French paratroopers, crisscrossed the boulevards of Bangui, where clashes between Christian and Muslim militias have recently ceased.
Since the March ouster of President François Bozizé by a rebel alliance known as Seleka, the country has slipped into chaos of a dangerously sectarian nature – an unprecedented development in this Christian majority country where Muslims constitute about 15% of the population.
The Seleka rebels are mostly Muslim and include fighters from neighbouring Chad and Sudan. While transitional president, Michel Djotodia, officially disbanded the Seleka alliance, in reality, the former rebel leader lost control of rebel fighters. Meanwhile, Christian self-defence groups known as “anti-balaka” (anti-machete) sprung up to defend communities before some of them moved to extract revenge.
Preventing sectarian clashes
The primary mission of the French troops in the CAR is to prevent sectarian clashes between the two communities.
On the streets of Bangui, the French military presence is now synonymous with safety. "We are very pleased that the French army is in the streets. Within three to four days, life will resume and we will be in peace,” said a resident of a Muslim-majority district.
Later, the French forces patrolled a primarily Christian neighbourhood. "This neighbourhood is where [ousted leader] Francois Bozizé comes from. People here support him. If exactions are to take place, it could well be in this area," explained Captain Barres.
Seeing the French military patrol, residents finally stepped out of their homes for the first time in three days. Relieved residents explained that they were being harassed day and night by ex-Seleka rebels.
As the patrol approached a cross street, armed men were located around a corner, but they slipped away in the network of backstreets. Minutes later, French troops were warned of another incident in the area. The tanks started up again and proceeded down the road to the loud cheers of local residents. Order may be slowly returning to parts of the Central African capital, but stability is yet to come to this corner of the continent.