Military chief says violence abating in Central African Republic
The head of the French military mission in the Central African Republic has said sectarian violence has abated in the country since the arrival of peacekeepers in December.
Speaking ahead of a parliamentary vote on Tuesday to extend the French mission, called Operation Sangaris, General Francisco Soriano said a lot of work remained to be done in the mineral-rich but impoverished nation.
"When the Sangaris force was deployed on December 5, the Central African
Republic, and especially [the capital] Bangui, was the scene of deadly clashes and
inconceivable violence," he told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper.
"Now, even if it has not halted, the violence and fighting have decreased tremendously," he said, adding that the daily average of incidents of violence and lynchings in the French-controlled zone had fallen from about 60 to half of that.
General Franciso Soriano also said French forces had seized nearly 1,000 firearms and 4,000 other weapons such as knives and rods in Bangui and across the country.
France deployed 1,600 troops under Operation Sangaris in December in support of a 6,000-strong African Union force, and Paris recently announced it would send 400 more soldiers.
The French mission's mandate is due to expire in April. The French Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, is expected to give parliament an update on Tuesday and urge parliamentarians to extend the mandate, which is expected to be approved.
Soriano said an extension of the mission was key.
"There is a lot to be done. We have to rebuild everything, starting from the security and defence forces," he said.
The country's interim president, Catherine Samba Panza, has urged French troops to stay in the country until elections due in early 2015.
The Central African Republic has been torn by communal violence since the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels overthrew the government in March 2013 and handed power to their leader, Michel Djotodia, who was himself forced out for failing to rein in atrocities by his former fighters.
Violence has continued since then, as vigilantes from the Christian majority retaliated against the country's Muslims.