Troops move in

Paris prom­ises troops will stay as long as nec­es­sary

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By AGEN­CIES in Ban­gui, Cen­tral African Repub­lic

French sol­diers be­gin pa­trolling densely pop­u­lated neigh­bor­hoods of Ban­gui, cap­i­tal of the Cen­tral African Repub­lic, which has been rocked by sec­tar­ian killings in Mus­lim and Chris­tian com­mu­ni­ties.

French sol­diers were cheered by res­i­dents on Satur­day as they be­gan pa­trolling densely pop­u­lated neigh­bor­hoods of Ban­gui, cap­i­tal of the Cen­tral African Repub­lic, which has been rocked by sec­tar­ian killings in Mus­lim and Chris­tian com­mu­ni­ties. At­tacks on civil­ians in Ban­gui con­tin­ued for a third day, aid work­ers said. Groups of heav­ily armed gun­men sped around its dusty streets af­ter the ex­piry of a 3 pm dead­line for all forces, ex­cept for­eign peace­keep­ers and the pres­i­den­tial guard, to re­turn to bar­racks.

France is de­ploy­ing 1,600 troops to its for­mer colony, where hun­dreds have been killed in fight­ing be­tween the Seleka rebel group that seized power in March and Chris­tian self-de­fense mili­tias. The fight­ing has spilled over into re­li­gious vi­o­lence in the cap­i­tal and be­yond, with at least 300 peo­ple killed since Thurs­day, the Red Cross said.

The Cen­tral African Repub­lic has been gripped by chaos since Seleka top­pled Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Boz­ize and em­barked on months of loot­ing, rapes and killings. Seleka’s leader, Michel Djo­to­dia, in­stalled as CAR’s in­terim pres­i­dent, has lost con­trol of his loose band of fight­ers.

On Thurs­day, the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil au­tho­rized France to use deadly force to help African peace­keep­ers strug­gling to re­store or­der. Paris sprang into ac­tion af­ter an at­tack on Ban­gui the same day by Chris­tian mili­tias and gun­men loyal to Boz­ize that ig­nited the worst vi­o­lence in a year of cri­sis.

French he­li­copters and war­planes flew low over the di­lap­i­dated river­side cap­i­tal on Satur­day. Lo­cal res­i­dents cheered French sol­diers as they pa­trolled on foot down nar­row streets.

“If they can get into the neigh­bor­hoods, we might start see­ing a re­duc­tion in these crimes,” said Amy Martin, head of the UN Of­fice for the Co­or­di­na­tion of Hu­man­i­tar­ian Af­fairs. “The level of atroc­i­ties and the lack of hu­man­ity, the sense­less killing, de­fies imag­i­na­tion,” she said.

French re­in­force­ments crossed into west­ern Cen­tral African Repub­lic from Cameroon on Satur­day, while troops also moved north­ward from the cap­i­tal in a bid to quickly pacify the sparsely pop­u­lated in­te­rior, army spokesman Gilles Jar­ron said.

The troops reached Bos­san­goa shortly af­ter night­fall.

The force’s strength reached 1,200 troops by mid­day on Satur­day.

“It’s a num­ber that will re­main as long as nec­es­sary for this mis­sion,” French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande told a news con­fer­ence in Paris.

Hol­lande’s of­fice said the African Union force France is sup­port­ing would be in­creased to 6,000 men from 3,500.

“The coun­try for the first time in its his­tory is head­ing to­ward a re­li­gious war. We have to be very care­ful,” Cha­dian Pres­i­dent Idriss Deby, whose coun­try has pro­vided hun­dreds of troops to the mis­sion, said af­ter a meet­ing on the cri­sis.

SIA KAMBOU / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESES

A for­mer Seleka rebel looks at French sol­diers pa­trolling by his base, close to the French em­bassy in Ban­gui, Cen­tral African Repub­lic, on Satur­day.

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