CAR: French public fears ‘mission creep’ as operation drags on

François Hollande has sought to refocus attention from his private life on to his reform agenda

When President François Hollande ordered French troops into the Central African Republic ostensibly to avert a “genocide” by Muslim rebels who had seized power, the operation was named “Sangaris” after a butterfly to reflect its intended brief life.

Almost three months later, the French parliament is to vote tomorrow on extending the operation, amid claims the government underestimated the potential for a backlash by the Christian majority the troops were sent to protect.

The Sangaris commander, General Francisco Soriano, insisted on Monday that the increasingly unpopular operation had not become bogged down. “People should be aware that we can’t settle in two months 20 years of crisis in a country which has a state that has not responded to its citizens’ aspirations and where everything has to be rebuilt,” he told Europe 1 radio.

Opinion polls have shown that the operation is not popular with the French public which fears that the mission, originally authorised for four months, could last much longer. On 14 February the Defence Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, sent 400 additional troops to the impoverished former French colony in the heart of Africa, bringing the total to 2,000. Six thousand soldiers from the African Union have also been deployed, while another 1,000 EU troops have been promised.

The country’s interim president, Catherine Samba Panza, who took over last month following the expulsion of the Séléka militias from the capital, Bangui, has asked the foreign forces to stay until elections in February next year.

And Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General who backs a plan for a UN peacekeeping force, last week urged “rapid reinforcement” of the French and African troops with an additional 3,000 soldiers to prevent sectarian violence spiralling into genocide. Marielle Debos, a lecturer in political science at Nanterre University, said in a column in Le Monde that talk of genocide was inappropriate and claimed the French government had failed to anticipate the reversal of the balance of power since Sangaris began. The removal of the Séléka, who ousted President François Bozize last March, strengthened the Christian and animist militia known as the anti-balaka.

Amid reports of a surge of revenge killings targeting Muslim civilians, Amnesty International last Friday reported an alleged massacre committed by the anti-balaka in Bougere, west of Bangui. “Nothing prepared us for what we found. The streets were littered with bodies. We counted 21 including three women and even a baby. Dogs were feeding on some of the corpses,” said Amnesty. “Some of the male victims were partially burned. The feet of one man had been tied together, evidence that he had been taken prisoner before being executed. The residents said that there were more in the outskirts of the town.”

Mr Ban last week warned of a coming “de facto” partition of the country. Two thousand people have been killed in the conflict and almost a million people – or a quarter of the population – have been forced to leave their homes.

The parliamentary vote on extending the French mission comes as President Hollande is attempting to refocus attention away from his love life and on to domestic issues such as tax reform. A poll published on 16 February showed that his personal approval ratings had sunk to 20 per cent, the lowest of any president since 1958.

In the light of the interim government’s request, the opposition centre-right UMP has concerns about mission creep. “What is the point of this mission?” asked UMP deputy Pierre Lellouche during a visit to the Central African Republic. Centrist deputy Philippe Folliot said “the nature of the French operation is changing de facto. This is causing questions about the financing of the operation, and the need for it to become a proper multinational operation”.

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
News
news
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn