France will send 1,000 troops to Central African Republic – the second time France has boosted its presence there in a year – under an expected UN-backed mission to keep growing chaos at bay.
Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French defence minister, made the announcement on Tuesday – a day after a top UN official warned of mass atrocities and possible civil war in CAR, where rebel groups joined forces in March and overthrew the president.
The rebels have been accused by rights groups of committing scores of atrocities including murder, rape and the use of child soldiers.
“It’s in collapse and we cannot have a country fall apart like that. There is the violence, massacres and humanitarian chaos that follow a collapse,” Le Drian told a European radio station. “It will be a short mission to allow calm and stability to return.”
In Mali, France has about 2,800 troops taking part in an operation that began after rebels and al-Qaida-linked fighters moved to take over the capital last winter.
Le Drian dismissed any comparisons between the Mali and CAR missions.
“In Mali there was an attack of jihadists, terrorists who wanted to transform Mali into a terrorist state. This is a collapse of a country with a potential for religious clashes,” he said.
“France has international responsibilities, is a permanent member of the Security Council, has history with Central African Republic, and the United Nations is asking us to do it.”
France already has 420 soldiers in Central African Republic – mostly to protect the airport in the capital Bangui.
The country has asked France to increase that force and French diplomats have announced plans to circulate a draft Security Council resolution that will call for additional support for the 3,000-strong force led by the African Union now in the country.
France hopes that a UN resolution will be passed before the start of a summit in Paris next week focusing on security issues in Africa, French diplomats have said.
The expanded French deployment would happen after that. France would accompany an African force of troops from neighboring countries, and the French mission would be expected to last about six months, Le Drian said.