France sends Le Drian to Bangui

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IOL pic dec10 car france troops detain seleka man

Associated Press

French troops detain a suspected Seleka officer near the airport in Bangui, in the Central African Republic, on Monday. Picture: Jerome Delay

Paris -

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Friday arrived in the Central African Republic for talks with the interim leaders of the strife-torn nation, where Paris deployed troops last week, according to an aide.

The visit comes on the heels of that by President Francois Hollande, who stopped in the country on Tuesday after attending Nelson Mandela's memorial in South Africa.

Hollande admitted his country was facing a “dangerous” but vital operation to restore security in its former colony, terrorised by sectarian violence between Muslims and Christians since a coup in March.

Two elite French soldiers were killed on Monday, just days after Paris finished deploying 1 600 troops in the resource-rich but impoverished country.

Like Hollande, Le Drian will meet with interim president Michel Djotodia, the former leader of the now disbanded Seleka rebel group which captured the capital Bangui and ousted president Francois Bozize in March.

Djotodia became the first Muslim president of the majority Christian country, but while some Seleka members remained loyal to him, others started terrorising the population and government forces were powerless to stop them.

Months of massacres, rapes and looting followed, with locals forming Christian vigilante groups in response.

Paris has accused the former rebel leader of doing nothing to stop the sectarian violence.

The French troops on the ground are supporting an African contingent that is due to grow from 2 500 men to 6 000.

Le Drian will also meet the head of the French contingent in Bangui, General Francisco Soriano, before leaving for neighbouring Chad where he will meet with President Idriss Deby.

Although the French military says most of the militias have been disarmed, the real challenge is to contain Christian anger against the Seleka rebels and the Muslim minority with whom they are associated.

On a state visit to Brazil on Friday, Hollande called for a permanent European fund to finance emergency interventions in crises such as that in the Central African Republic. - Sapa-AFP

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