Over 1,600 French troops are now deployed in the Central African Republic (CAR).
The United Nations (UN) Security Council authorised this deployment and African intervention on Thursday of last week.
“We are intervening for humanitarian reasons,” French president Francois Hollande said. “There are no terrorists in Central African Republic.”
Around 300 people are believed to have died in sectarian clashes in the days before the deployment. French defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said last Sunday, “It’s from tomorrow that the disarmament will start. First we’ll ask nicely and if they don't react, we’ll do it by force.”
Militias that used to be part of the Seleka rebel alliance are reported to be acting as bandits.
Some groups are backed by foreign mercenaries. The country has a majority Christian population, but the Seleka largely came from the Muslim minority.
A recent UN report blamed these militias for “arbitrary arrests and detention, sexual violence against women and children, torture, rape, targeted killings, recruitment of child soldiers, and attacks.”
Anti-Seleka groups have accused the militias of attacking Christians and have retaliated with attacks on Muslims. France and other Western powers are in competition with China to gain access to the country’s resources—from timber to uranium.
Under Hollande’s government since May 2012 France has intervened in Africa in Ivory Coast, Somalia, Mali and now CAR.
As in Mali, the British government has offered support into the intervention. In this case this is likely to be military equipment on a C-17 transport aircraft.
The French government is out to rebuild its influence and prestige in Africa. It says that its interventions, unlike those of China, are made in the interests of local people and with the agreement of local governments.
More than 40 African leaders met before the deployment. French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said, “We can sell Airbuses, food. We can invest. The interest of Africa and the interest of Europe, notably France, is to move closer together.” If this was true it would be a first.
France, like other colonial powers, used its military and economic strength to bully and dominate its former colonies.
CAR was ruled for years by the brutal dictator Jean-Bedel Bokassa, who was supported by the French.