France sends troops to Central African Republic to stem bloodletting

France sends troops to Central African Republic to stem bloodletting

BANGUI - Agence France-Presse
France sends troops to Central African Republic to stem bloodletting

A French soldier takes part in a securing mission at the entrance of Bangui's airport on Dec. 1. AFP photo

France ordered troops into its former colony of the Central African Republic on Dec. 5, hours after a sectarian bloodbath left more than 120 people dead in the troubled nation's capital of Bangui.

Shortly after the U.N. Security Council issued a green light for the military intervention, French President Francois Hollande ordered an additional 600 troops to the African country, doubling the force it already has in and around Bangui.

"Massacres are taking place at this very moment, even in hospitals," Hollande said. "Every day, women and children are being violently abused and thousands of people are being turned into refugees." The depiction of a chaotic, desperate situation was confirmed by AFP reporters in Bangui, who counted 54 corpses gathered in a mosque in the PK5 area of the capital.

Another 25 bodies lined surrounding streets. Many of the victims had been clubbed or hacked to death.

The violence appeared to vindicate recent warnings from France, the United States and others that the Central African Republic (CAR) was on the brink of collapse with tensions soaring between its Christian and Muslim communities.

"The bodies were brought here this morning by people from the surrounding area," a mosque official who requested anonymity told AFP. The mosque was full of distraught men and women who had come to look for missing loved ones.

The Doctors Without Borders (MSF) charity reported at least 50 dead and scores more injured in one hospital alone as a result of the clashes that erupted overnight.

With clinics in other parts of the city inaccessible, the death toll was almost certain to rise and one local resident, who refused to be identified, told AFP he feared another blood-soaked night.

"In certain neighbourhoods that is going to be terrible, there is going to be more killing," he said.

PM appeals for France's intervention

In New York, the U.N. Security Council unanimously backed a French-drafted resolution authorising the deployment of up to 3,600 African and 1,200 French troops to try and contain the violence.

The country's prime minister, Nicolas Tiangaye, had earlier pressed France to act urgently.

"Given the urgency, my desire is that the intervention happens as soon as possible, immediately after the resolution," Tiangaye - who was in Paris for a Franco-African summit that kicks off Dec. 6 - told AFP.

The French troops will help to shore up MISCA, a 2,500-strong African force which is already on the ground but has been unable to stem the country's descent into chaos.

The CAR started to implode after the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted the president in a coup in March. Muslim and Christian groups started fighting each other and tens of thousands of people have been left in terror of sectarian attacks.

Reports have described a litany of horrors, with security forces and militia gangs razing villages, carrying out public execution-style killings and perpetrating widespread rapes.

In a radio-television broadcast, president Michel Djotodia told scared residents to "keep calm" and extended a curfew in the capital by four hours, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

The intervention will be France's second military operation in Africa this year, after Hollande sent more than 4,000 troops to oust Islamist rebels in control of northern Mali in January.

The U.N. resolution gives the French-backed African force a 12-month mandate and the right to use "all necessary measures" to restore order.

United Nations leader Ban Ki-moon has warned that up to 9,000 troops could be needed to quell violence that has spread through the country of 4.6 million since president Francois Bozize's overthrow.

A top rebel chief, Djotodia took over as president following the coup, becoming the first Muslim leader of the majority Christian country that has for decades been prone to coups, rebellions and mutinies.

Djotodia formally disbanded the Seleka, but ex-rebels continued to wreak havoc. Locals responded by forming vigilante groups and the government quickly lost control of the landlocked country.