Regional troops in CAR to face rebels, but France declines

AFP and Reuters, BANGUI

Fri, Dec 28, 2012 - Page 1

More regional troops yesterday headed to help secure the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR) in the face of a rebel advance, as France said it would not intervene in its former colony’s conflict.

“Bangui is fully secured by the troops,” of the Multinational Force of Central Africa, force commander General Jean-Felix Akaga said on national radio.

The comments came as the UN said it was pulling out non-essential staff from the country where a rebel coalition called Seleka has seized four major regional capitals in less than a month.

French President Francois Hollande said it would not use the troops it has in the country to interfere in the conflict, a day after hundreds of protestors at the French embassy in Bangui demanded Paris do more to stem the rebels’ momentum.

“If we are present, it is not to protect a regime, it is to protect our nationals and our interests, and in no way to intervene in the internal affairs of a country, in this case Central Africa,” he said.

France has about 250 soldiers based at Bangui airport providing technical support to a peacekeeping mission run by the Economic Community of Central African States, the French Ministry of Defence said.

Bangui on Wednesday urged France to help facilitate a dialogue with the rebels all the while alluding to the French military presence.

The rebels began their push earlier this month, charging that Central African President Francois Bozize — who seized power in a coup in 2003 — and his government have not adhered to peace deals signed between 2007 and last year.

As the ill-equipped and underpaid Central African army proved little challenge to the insurgents, Bozize asked for help from Chad.

With the government now largely restricted to Bangui, the Chadian troops are the only real obstacle to the rebels, now sitting about 300km away.