Speaking in the Central African Republic (CAR) capital city of Bangui on Friday, French President Francois Hollande said his country would continue providing a peacekeeping force in the embattled nation. His visit on Friday was his second since December, when Paris deployed 1,600 French soldiers to the former colony.
France's goal was "to avoid the partition of [the Central African Republic] at any price," Hollande said.
"The stakes of this visit are to assess what has been accomplished in three months and to decide on the next missions," Hollande said, adding that Paris wanted to "reestablish the authority of the state, renew dialogue."
CAR will see an increase to the international peacekeeping presence soon. The European Union plans to send 1,000 soldiers to work alongside the 6,000 African Union soldiers already present as part of Operation Sangaris. The French parliament recently approved an increase to its military operation in CAR, bolstering its numbers by 400 to roughly 2,000 troops. Germany, for its part, has declined to deploy soldiers, but has expressed its willingness to provide logistical support to the mission.
The French president thanked the military personnel working in CAR, saying that "thousands of lives have been saved thanks to you."
Following his speech, Hollande was scheduled for a briefing with French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and General Francisco Soriano who commands the French mission, followed by a meeting with President Catherine Samba Panza.
Soriano: 'relearn how to live together'
The initial public support for international peacekeepers - French soldiers in particular - has waned as fighting continues. Ahead of Hollande's visit, the commander of the French mission, General Soriano, stressed that the domestic population needed to begin the process of reconciliation with each other in order to stabilize their country.
"I know that many families here have truly suffered, but we must look forward now," Soriano said. "We already do a lot…[however] Central African Republic needs all its people, Christians and Muslims…to relearn how to live together."
Fighting broke out in CAR nearly a year ago when the predominantly Muslim Seleka rebel group overthrew the government. It then installed Michel Djotodia as its president. Violence escalated again several months later as Christian groups began forming what they described as self-defense militias against Seleka fighters. The crisis prompted a French and African Union military intervention and, finally, President Djotodia's resignation in January.
The United Nations estimates that roughly one million people have fled their homes since late last year. Roughly 1.3 million people are in immediate need of food aid.
kms/msh (AP, AFP)