France moves quickly after winning UN backing for CAR operation

650 troops on the ground with more to follow, but Hollande vows to keep mission brief

Bangui

France has launched its second major African intervention in a year as its troops rushed to the Central African Republic’s capital, Bangui, on Friday to stem violence that has claimed more than 100 lives this week.

Just hours after it won UN backing for intervention on Thursday, France began assembling a new 1,200-strong force for CAR.

“The operation has effectively started,” the Defence Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, told RFI radio. He said one company had arrived in Bangui from a French base in nearby Gabon, and that a helicopter group was due to be in place later in the day.

He added that the night had been calm after fighting on Thursday between the mainly Muslim former rebels now in charge of the country and a mix of local Christian militiamen and other fighters loyal to the ousted president François Bozize. A Reuters witness and an aid worker said at least 105 people were dead.

Speaking hours after France secured UN backing for the mission on Thursday, President François Hollande vowed that the French operation would be limited in time, with the aim of handing over to African forces when that became possible.

In January France launched a military operation in Mali which stamped out an advance by al-Qa’ida-linked insurgents on the capital, Bamako.

Mr Le Drian said it was “not impossible” that France could wind down its presence in the Central African Republic after six months, but the CAR Prime Minister, Nicolas Tiangaye, said it was likely the French troops would have to remain longer.

“Six months seems a bit short to me; in my view we are looking at a year. If it [the French force] manages to sort out the problems, so much the better, but I would prefer it to stay in place for a year,” Mr Tiangaye told RTL radio.

The former French colony has slipped into chaos since mainly Muslim rebels seized power in March, leading to tit-for-tat sectarian violence with the Christian majority. Thursday’s violence was the worst the capital has seen during the current crisis.

As of Thursday, France had some 650 troops based at Bangui airport – a number that Mr Hollande said would double with the arrival of reinforcements from French bases in neighbouring countries.

Central African Republic is rich in gold, diamonds and uranium but decades of instability and spillover from conflicts in its larger neighbours have kept it mired in crisis.

The French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, said the annual Africa-France summit which started in Paris yesterday would discuss CAR operations, including the future handover to African or UN-led forces.

Asked about his previous warning that there was a risk of genocide – which critics have called alarmist – Mr Fabius said: “The term is debatable. I won’t employ it again as genocide is something quite specific … [but] we have all the elements of a major crisis and powder keg.” He said there had been what he called “the start of a religious confrontation”.

Mr Fabius said French forces would initially focus on securing Bangui and roads leading to Chad and Cameroon. They would also deploy with African forces to other towns including Bossangoa, about 190 miles north of the capital, which witnesses said had come under heavy fire from former rebels on Thursday.

Michel Djotodia, the leader of the Seleka former rebel alliance, is now CAR’s interim president, but he has struggled to control his loose band of fighters, many of whom come from neighbouring Chad and Sudan.

Asked whether Mr Djotodia was a legitimate leader and should remain in power, Mr Fabius said he had gained power “in a debatable way” but added: “I think we don’t need more difficulties by adding the departure of the president.” He said, however, that elections should begin by early 2015 at the latest.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam