More French troops for restive CAR

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IOL pic feb13 central african republic unrest

Reuters

Soldiers from the Democratic Republic of Congo, belonging to an African peacekeeping force, stand guard while patrolling near damaged shops in Bangui. Picture: Luc Gnago

Paris - France said Friday it was sending 400 more troops to the Central African Republic as concern grows over the country's horrific violence.

After a meeting of the top French defence committee, President Francois Hollande said Paris was boosting its troop presence in the CAR to 2 000.

He also urged the European Union to speed up the deployment of its planned 500-strong EUFOR mission and vowed France would work to “stop the massacres, prevent war crimes and restore public security” in the CAR.

“All of the enemies of peace will be fought. There will be no impunity for those who commit crimes,” Hollande's office said in a statement.

Hollande was also due later Friday to hold talks in Paris with Chad's President Idriss Deby, who has significant influence over events in the CAR.

France's announcement came as UNICEF said even children were not safe from the country's mounting violence, with 133 killed in the past two months, some of them maimed and beheaded.

The CAR has been descending into chaos since a coup by the Seleka rebel coalition a year ago installed the first Muslim president in the majority Christian nation. He has since stepped down.

Killings and pillaging by former Seleka rebels led to the formation of mostly Christian “anti-balaka” militias, whose attacks have fuelled an exodus of Muslims over the past several weeks.

International troops deployed in the CAR, including from former colonial power France, have failed to halt the violence that according to Amnesty International has grown into an “ethnic cleansing” campaign over the past weeks.

The UN refugee agency has described the situation in the resource-rich but poor country as “a humanitarian catastrophe of unspeakable proportions”.

And UNICEF said Friday that its officials in the region “are horrified by the cruelty and impunity with which children are being killed and mutilated” and are “increasingly targeted because of their religion, or because of their community.”

“There is no future for a country where adults can viciously target innocent children with impunity,” said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF regional director for west and central Africa.

France currently has some 1 600 troops in the country and the African Union force MISCA more than 5 000 - but they have been unable to stem the cycle of revenge attacks.

Hollande on Thursday called for the United Nations to fast-track the deployment of peacekeepers in the CAR, saying they were needed to halt the unrest and to prop up the administration of new interim president Catherine Samba Panza.

France is also working to recruit troops for the promised EU mission.

EU foreign ministers cleared the nine-month mission on Monday but without resolving who would contribute.

Major EU powers such as Britain and Germany have refused to commit soldiers and diplomats say efforts are focusing on smaller countries.

Diplomatic sources in Brussels said Friday that besides France, five other EU countries had proposed a “substantial” contribution to the mission.

Poland could provide 140 soldiers while Estonia, Latvia, Romania and Portugal could each offer 30 to 50, the sources said.

Samba Panza, the new interim president, has promised to crack down on the anti-balaka militias, which began as self-defence groups but are now blamed for most of the country's violence.

The self-proclaimed leader of the militias, Richard Bejouane, warned Thursday that declaring war on the groups “amounts to declaring war on the Central African population”.

The vast country in the heart of Africa is home to about 4.5 million people, more than 80 percent of them Christian, and has been chronically unstable since gaining independence from France in 1960.

Sapa-AFP


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