France to boost Central Africa force with U.N. backing

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 26, 2013 3:20 AM
France to boost Central Africa force with U.N. backing

PARIS (Reuters) - France will increase its force in Central African Republic to at least one thousand soldiers after a U.N. resolution expected next week, French officials said on Tuesday, warning of the risk of regional instability.

The landlocked nation of 4.6 million people has descended into violence and chaos since rebels, many from neighboring Chad and Sudan, ousted President Francois Bozize in March.

CAR's prime minister, Nicolas Tiangaye, said on Monday Fabius told him France aimed to boost its number of soldiers in the country by 800 from about 400.

"We are going to reinforce our presence," Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told France Culture radio. "We are waiting for a United Nations resolution that should come next week."

"Until now, only Central Africans were threatened, but if the (power) vacuum and implosion sets in, it will threaten all countries in the region: Chad, Sudan, Congo and Cameroon."

Asked about the figure of 800 additional troops, Fabius said the number "makes sense", but did not elaborate further.

Separately, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told Europe 1 radio France would support a planned African-led force with "around one thousand" troops. He did not specify whether that was the size of the reinforcement or the total number.

He said the mission was likely to last about six months depending on the timetable set by the United Nations. He dismissed comparisons with France's intervention Mali, where Paris deployed 4,000 troops in January to keep Islamist militants from taking the capital Bamako.

French U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud said at the United Nations that the French troops in CAR would restore law and order until an African Union force of 3,600 troops - known as MISCA - was fully operational.

In addition to the French troops in the country, there is a 2,500-strong regional force deployed by the Economic Community of Central African States. The African Union is due to take charge of that force in December and boost its size.

The violence in the mineral-rich but impoverished country has increasingly pitted the mainly Muslim fighters of the Seleka rebels against Christian militias. Christians make up half the population and Muslims 15 percent.

(Reporting by Leigh Thomas, Additional reporting by Marion Douet; editing by Elizabeth Piper and Mark John)