After less than 12 months, the European Union's military mission in Central African Republic is coming to an end. It has helped to restore peace to the country - an immense task that is far from over.
After spending almost a year in the Central African Republic, 700 European soldiers and police officers are returning home. Their military mission EUFOR-RCA, which was launched in April 2014, was given the task of protecting the population and safeguarding the delivery of humanitarian assistance. General Philipe Ponties, who led the mission, said he was satisfied with the outcome. "We are leaving a city [Bangui] to which peace has been restored and in which a political process is now in motion. People are now leaving the refugee camps and the internally displaced are returning to their homes. I have the impression that we have accomplished our mission," he said
Ponties underlined that EUFOR only had a temporary mandate. "The mission was charged with securing the airport and parts of the capital, Bangui, and with providing assistance for the setting up of a UN mission in the country." These goals have been more or less achieved.
Many Central Africans do not share Ponties' sense of satisfaction. They say the chaos is far from over. Following the ousting of President Francois Bozize in March 2013, Central African Republic was plunged into a civil war in which thousands lost their lives. At one stage almost half the population was on the run. In the meantime various troop contingents have been deployed in the country. Interim president Catherine Samba-Panza was voted into office in January 2014 as part of efforts to restore constitutional order, but tensions remained high in Bangui and other parts of the country.
Would like troops to have stayed
Chris, a DW listener, is sorry to see the EUFOR troops leave. "I wish they could have stayed," he said. "The conflict is far from over." A citizen of CAR, he now lives in exile in Ghana. Before he left, he lived in Bangui, close to EUFOR headquarters. He had placed a lot of hope in the presence of the troops and how they would make the country more secure. But after a while, they stopped intervening in the clashes between rival armed groups. There are still marauding gangs in Bangui's districts, Ponties admitted. But it was now time to crack down on them with the help of the local police force. But the police were poorly equipped, Chris said. "They don't have any weapons. With what should they then defend themselves - or the citizens of Bangui."
French political scientist Roland Marchal also believes that the troops are leaving too soon. He says international engagement to help CAR does not go far enough. "The international community is just thinking about elections [in CAR]. They believe that they will lead to a legitimate government which will be in position to solve all problems," he said. But the conditions needed for elections aren't in place; the political climate isn't right yet.
EUFOR's mandate was restrictive said David Smith, a South African analyst specializing in Central African Republic. Within its tight frame of reference, it was successful. It restored security at the airport and in two unruly districts, thereby freeing up the French Sangaris troops to concentrate on the rest of the country. Smith's assessment from a broader perspective is rather less optimistic. "The country is still not at peace, even though over the last 20 years there have been numerous peacekeeping operations that have temporarily brought about peace," he said.
The causes of the conflict have never been properly tackled. "There is no infrastructure, industry, or health care outside the capital. There are also no jobs," Smith said. These are problems which will continue to preoccupy Central African Republic and international actors in the region. They include the UN mission MINUSCA and a new EU mission, EUMAM. Ponties said EUMAM's task will be to advise Central African officials and help set up local security forces.