BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — France is ending its military peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic, the French defense minister said Monday on a visit here.
Jean-Yves Le Drian, in the capital, Bangui, to mark the end of France's nearly three-year mission to help stabilize the country, said that some French troops would remain in Central African Republic as part of the U.N. peacekeeping mission.
"France will never abandon Central African Republic," said Le Drian, speaking to the country's parliament. "It will be very vigilant and will closely follow developments."
Le Drian also met with President Faustin Archange Touadera.
The withdrawal of the French force, which at its peak was estimated at 2,000 troops, comes when there has been a new outbreak of violence in Central African Republic. The U.N. peacekeeping mission, which has 13,000 soldiers, said that 25 people were killed last week in clashes between armed groups amid "rising tension" in parts of the long-turbulent country.
The U.N. peacekeeping mission last week urged armed groups to cease the cycle of violence, which it said goes against the aspirations for peace among the vast majority of the population in the impoverished, landlocked nation.
Central African Republic descended into conflict in 2013 when the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels overthrew the Christian president. That ushered in a brutal reign in which the rebels committed atrocities. When the rebel leader left power, a deadly backlash by the Christian anti-Balaka militia against Muslim civilians followed.
The sectarian violence has continued, despite a high-profile visit by Pope Francis last year to appeal for calm.
Earlier this month, fighters with the former Seleka group attacked the northern town of Kaga-Bandoro, in which at least 30 were killed and 57 wounded in clashes as U.N. peacekeepers confronted them. And in the capital, Bangui, 11 people were killed and 14 injured in violence sparked by the killing of a military official.