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”.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk