Two French soldiers have been killed in clashes in the Central African Republic (CAR). The country’s first casualties of the current military mission came just hours before France’s president was to visit the country.
The office of President Francois Hollande, who was in South Africa to attend the funeral of former President Nelson Mandela on Tuesday, released a statement announcing the deaths of the two soldiers in the Central African Republic's capital, Bangui.
"The president expresses his profound respect for the sacrifice of these two soldiers and renews his full confidence in the French forces committed - alongside African forces - to restoring security in the Central African Republic, to protecting the people and guaranteeing access to humanitarian aid," the statement said.
The speaker of the National Assembly, Claude Bartolone, said the two paratroopers were wounded in a fire fight that broke out while they were on patrol near the city's airport Monday night.
"They were injured and very quickly taken to the surgical unit but unfortunately, they could not be saved," he said.
France increased its military presence in the Central African Republic to 1,600 troops last week as part of a United Nations-mandated intervention meant to restore order after months of violence.
African Union member states have also pledged to increase the number of soldiers deployed to an existing peacekeeping mission from the current 2,500 to 6,000 men.
Earlier, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that he had ordered American forces to help transport African forces to the Central African Republic.
The French army reported on Monday that its forces had managed to restore some semblance of stability to Bangui despite clashes that broke out during an operation to disarm rival Muslim and Christian militiamen. According to the Red Cross, at least 465 people have been killed in the capital since last Thursday.
Interim President Michel Djotodia has struggled to restore law and order since mainly Muslim Seleka rebels overthrew President Francois Bozize, a Christian, in a military coup back in March.
pfd/kms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)