French forces arrive in Central African Republic as military operations begin in troubled country

UN approves force to stop escalation of bloodshed in nation on brink of genocide

French troops rumbled into Central African Republic on Friday, trying to quell violence in the capital a day after armed Christian fighters raided Muslim neighborhoods, leaving nearly 100 people dead.

France began sending reinforcements within hours of a UN vote Thursday authorizing its troops to try to stabilize the country. But French officials insisted the mission's aims are limited — to bring a minimum of security to Bangui, where people now fear to leave their homes, and to support an African-led force. 

"You have to secure, you have to disarm," French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told Radio France Internationale. "You have to ensure that the vandals, the bandits, the militias know they can't use the streets of Bangui for their battles." 

The streets of Bangui were deserted this morning, with the only vehicles on the road belonging to either international security forces or the rebel fighters who claim control of the government. 

There was no repeat of the clashes that left nearly 100 people dead in Bangui on Thursday, Le Drian said. 

But since thousands of armed Muslim rebels invaded Bangui in March, the city remains awash in weapons. Recent attempts at disarmament have yielded little in a near-anarchic state. 

Since 2011, France has intervened in four African countries, in Ivory Coast, on a joint mission in Libya, in Mali and now in Central African Republic. 

In January, France sent in 5,000 troops to Mali to quash al-Qa'ida and other radicals in the north who were seen as a terrorist threat to countries around the region. That dwarfs the mission in Central African Republic, where 1,200 French troops are to help an African force secure the nearly-lawless country as Muslim rebels run rampant after toppling the president in March. 

And it's not clear how France can achieve even its limited goals in the space of six months. 

"There's a big gap between the vision France has of itself as a global power and as a power that can intervene," said Aline Leboeuf, a security and development specialist at the French Institute for International Relations. 

The real question, she added, is: "Can you intervene in the right way and when do you leave?" 

Scores died in Thursday's attack, including 48 people whose bodies were laid out at a mosque in a northern suburb of Bangui. The charity group Doctors Without Borders said another 50 deaths had been confirmed at its hospitals, bringing the toll to 98. 

Some of those killed on Thursday died of bullet wounds, others from what appeared to be blows from machetes known as "balakas." 

The Christian militia has adopted the moniker "anti-balaka," in reference to prior attacks on Christians that used machetes. But now they seem to have adopted the weapon themselves. 

Rebel leader-turned-president Michel Djotodia appealed for calm, even as his residence and that of the prime minister were looted and vandalized by the fighters. He announced a dusk-to-dawn curfew in a bid to stem the threat of retaliatory violence against Christians from Muslims. 

"This morning, the enemies of Central African Republic wanted to destabilize the country but they have failed," Djotodia announced Thursday in a speech broadcast in the Sango language on state radio. 

France already has hundreds of soldiers in Bangui, and an armored personnel carrier and other military vehicles patrolled the streets. 

Le Drian said a helicopter detachment was arriving Friday, along with more troops. 

Djotodia, the country's current ruler, who is Muslim, managed to unify several rebel groups in the country's mostly Muslim north, where resentment of the federal government and a sense of disenfranchisement has been rife for years. Once those rebels — known as Seleka, the local word for coalition — were unleashed upon the capital, he wielded very little control over the mix of bush fighters, child soldiers and foreign mercenaries he had recruited along the way. 

Before long, human rights groups were documenting cases of Seleka rebels going door to door with machetes, bludgeoning their victims and burning down scores of homes. 

Supporters of the ousted president began rising up in opposition to the lawless and ruthless rebels, forming self-defense militias such as the ones behind Thursday's attack.

AP

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
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

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker