France wants help for its troops in the Central African Republic. But this was always a job for UN blue helmets

François Hollande has committed 1,600 troops to try to keep the peace in France’s beleaguered former colony

Share

From the nuclear negotiations with Iran, to the humanitarian crisis in Syria, to the vexed question of Ukraine’s future within (or without) Europe, there was no shortage of topics on the agenda at yesterday’s meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels. For France, however, the priority was the Central African Republic.

There is good reason for Europe – indeed, the world – to pay attention. The CAR has been subject to spasms of instability and violence ever since its independence in 1960. But the fighting between the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels who seized power in March, and the Christian militia that have sprung up to oppose them, now threatens civil war, even genocide.

Last week alone 600 people were killed and 160,000 displaced after gunmen loyal to the ousted President attacked the capital, Bangui. Overall, as many as half a million civilians – one in 10 of the entire population – may be hiding in the bush. More than a million need food aid, say charities. The situation is, in the judgement of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, “absolutely catastrophic”.

François Hollande has committed 1,600 troops to try to keep the peace in France’s beleaguered former colony. And, according to the Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, of the five European countries providing logistical support – of which Britain is one – two are considering sending soldiers of their own. His task in Brussels yesterday was to persuade them to do so.

Paris has its own reasons, of course. Battered by France’s poor economic performance, Mr Hollande is now the country’s least popular president ever. Meanwhile, backing for his intervention in CAR is also on the wane, particularly after two soldiers were gunned down while on patrol in Bangui. Some other European boots on the ground might ease the pressure.

Notwithstanding its own domestic concerns, however, the French government is right that CAR needs more help. Even together with an African Union force of 2,500 – set to rise to 6,000 – there are not enough peacekeepers to calm such a big country. Although Bangui may now be largely militia-free, the bloody cycle of attack and counter-attack is on the rise elsewhere. Nor can much store be set by the CAR President’s recent hints about an amnesty in return for disarmament: Michel Djotodia has little control in the capital, let alone beyond.

Even so, the British Government should not be sending soldiers to the CAR. One need look no further than the appalling cost of our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq– in lives lost, in money spent and in moral capital squandered– to see why. Furthermore, what were UN blue helmets created for, if not for this?

Only last week, the charity Médecins Sans Frontières lambasted the UN for its inadequate response to the “grave humanitarian crisis” in the CAR. The same criticism could be levelled at its peacekeepers. True, the AU wanted to take the lead in resolving a problem on its own doorstep. True, too, the UN backed – and will help fund – what troops are there. But the lengthy process of putting together a UN force should have gone ahead in parallel. With the situation rapidly deteriorating, the danger now is that they will be too late. Mr Fabius is right to look for help. But he is looking in the wrong place.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

John Noakes was everyone’s favourite presenter in the 1970s. It’s a shock to realise the eternal boy scout is now an octogenarian suffering from dementia  

How remarkable that John Noakes still has the power to affect me so

Matthew Norman
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy