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: Photo Booth Host

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company offers London's best photo booth ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers



£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Service Engineers ...

Recruitment Genius: Project Director / Operations Director

£50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an incredible opportunity for a ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Administrator is requir...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Freeman, centre, with Lord Gladwyn, left, and Harold Wilson on the programme The Great Divide in 1963  

John Freeman was a man of note who chose to erase himself from history

Terence Blacker
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Mr. Cameron is beginning to earn small victories in Europe

Andrew Grice
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'