French President François Hollande isolated over conflict in Central African Republic

Mr Hollande has pleaded with other EU members to put more boots on the ground in the former African colony

French President François Hollande cuts an increasingly isolated figure in his mission to coax European allies into military intervention in the Central African Republic (CAR).

Mr Hollande, France's least popular president in polling history, pleaded last week with other EU members to put more boots on the ground in the former African colony, which is embroiled in a violent conflict between Muslim rebels and Christian militia. But other EU states are reluctant to follow France, which entered the CAR with 1,600 troops this month.

The French forces are operating under a UN mandate to stop massacres. Two French soldiers have already been killed, and the Red Cross estimates some 600 people have died in the CAR since fighting started, with 700,000 people displaced by the violence.

Belgium is the only country to have pledged military assistance to Mr Hollande after Germany dropped its proposal to send a medical evacuation plane. But the Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo, said that France should expect "nothing else" aside from two transport planes. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, refused to send any soldiers to the CAR on Friday, while Britain and Poland have also ruled out providing troops, though Poland offered a transport plane with crew.

The Europeans' widespread refusal to enter the CAR comes as an embarrassing disappointment for the French government, whose Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, told the lower house of the French National Assembly earlier this week: "We will soon have troops on the ground provided by our European colleagues."

Dubbed "Operation Sangaris", the intervention's objective was not, according to Mr Hollande, to "source troops for military action" but to assist the CAR in specific areas including "airport protection and medical aid", the French newspaper Le Figaro reported. "I am not doing this for France, but for the interests of Europe," Mr Hollande said.

Operation Sangaris has already had one blow to its public relations, after Le Figaro published photographs yesterday of French soldiers from the 8th Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment, currently in the CAR, bearing Nazi slogans on their uniform.

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