On Tuesday, officials in France vowed to continue their mission in the Central African Republic (CAR) after the death of two elite soldiers, which have highlighted the risks of a mission that aims to disarm rogue rebels who have plunged the country into chaos. The death of the two French soldiers came hours before French President Francois Hollande visited the country.
First French Losses
Antoine Le Quinio, 22, and Nicolas Vokaer, 23, both members of the 8th Parachute regiment that is based in Castres, south western France, died overnight Monday after being caught up in a fierce fire fight during a night patrol in the capital city of Bangui, where sectarian clashes last week killed hundreds. French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian confirmed the first French losses, stating that they would have no impact on the tactics or the size of the 1,600-strong force that Paris has deployed in its former colony. Claude Bartolone, speaker of France’s National Assembly, told reporters that the soldiers “were injured and very quickly taken to the surgical unit, but unfortunately they could not be saved.”
The French troops, along with African peacekeepers, had launched an operation on Monday to forcibly disarm militiamen who claim to be part of a new national army. After last week’s clashes, in which the Red Cross has indicated that 394 people were killed in three days of fighting, tensions throughout the country remain high, with fear of continued violence. While the French army has indicated that it had restored some stability in the capital by Monday night, low-level violence continued on Tuesday.
Following a request from France, the United States announced on Monday that it would help fly African Union (AU) peacekeeping troops into the CAR. According to a spokesman for US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, US forces have been ordered “to begin transporting forces from Burundi to the Central African Republic.” US President Barack Obama has also called for calm and has asked the CAR’s transitional government to arrest those who are committing crimes.
Meanwhile President Francois Hollande arrived in Bangui on Tuesday after attending a memorial service for South African former president Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg. Upon his arrival, the French leader paid tribute to his country’s two fallen soldiers. During the short visit, the French President is expected to meet with Michel Djotodia, the country’s interim president.
Francois Hollande has defended France’s military intervention in the CAR, stating that it was necessary to avoid a bloodbath. Speaking in Bangui, the French leader stated, “it was time to act. In Bangui itself, nearly 400 people were killed. There was no time to procrastinate.”
France’s envoy to the United Nations announced on Tuesday that his country wants elections in the CAR to be held “as quickly as possible,” preferably by late 2014. Speaking at UN headquarters in New York, Ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters that “in light of political tensions on the ground, it would be preferable to have elections as quickly as possible, that is to say in the second half of 2014,” adding that “if the elections could take place in the second half of 2014, in the fall of 2014, that could be positive.” Currently, the CAR has a deadline to hold legislative and president
Amidst ongoing debates in the United States pertaining to possible military action against Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned America and its allies against taking one-sided action in Syria. Ahead of the G20 Summit, which is set to begin in Saint Petersburg on Thursday, the Russian President also indicated that he would not exclude Russia from agreeing to a possible US-led military strike on Syria, as long as it was proven that Syria’s regime had carried out the August 21 attack. While the G20 summit is suppose to concentrate on the global economy, it is highly likely that the Syrian crisis will dominate the discussions amongst global leaders.
Speaking during a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press and Russia’s state Channel 1 television, Putin’s remarks come just one day after members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee agreed on a draft resolution backing the use of US military force. According to the draft resolution, the operation would be restricted to a “limited and tailored use of the United States Armed Forces against Syria,” and ban the use of any ground forces. The measure, which will be voted on next week, sets a time limit of sixty days on any operation.
While US President Barack Obama has called for punitive action in response to an alleged chemical attack that was carried out on the outskirts of Damascus on 21 August, President Putin stated on Wednesday that any military strikes without the approval of the United Nations would be a form of “an agreession.” The Russian President further noted that while his country had not ruled out supporting a UN Security Council resolution that would authorize the use of force, it would have to be proved “beyond doubt” that the Syrian goverment used chemical weapons before such a mission would be launched. In relation to the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons, Putin noted that it was “ludicrous” that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an ally of Russia, would use chemical weapons at a time when it was gaining ground against the rebels. However the Russian President did specify that “if there is evidence that chemical weapons were used, and by the regular army…then this evidence must be presented to the UN Security Council. And it must be convincing,” adding that Russia would “be ready to act in the most decisive and serious way” if there was clear proof of what weapons were used and who used them but that at the moment, it is “too early” to discuss what Russia would do if America took action without a UN resolution. During the interview, Putin also confirmed that Russia has currently suspended delivering further components of S-300 air defence missile systems to Syria, adding that “if we see steps are taken that violate the existing international norms, we shall think how we should act in the future, in particular regarding supplies of such sensitive weapons to certain regions of the world.
Ahead of next week’s vote in Congress, on whether to back President Obama’s push for military strikes in Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry appeared on Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in order to promote the Obama administration’s case. During his discussions, Kerry indicated that there was evidence “beyond any reasonable doubt” that the forces of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime prepared for a chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. He further indicated to senators that while the President was not requesting that America go to war, “he is asking only for the power to make clear, to make certain, that the United States means what we say.” US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and top US military officers Gen. Martin Dempsey also appeared before the Senate panel. While a number of high profile officials, including Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner, and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger support Obama’s call for military action in Syria, the latest opinion polls in the US indicate that public opposition with respect to US involvement in the conflict is growing, with six out of ten Americans opposed to missile strikes.
Internationally, France, which is due to debate the issue on Wednesday in Parliament, has also strongly back the US plan for military action. On Tuesday, French President Francois Hollande stated that “when a chemical massacre takes place, when the world is informed of it, when the evidence is delivered, when the guilty parties are known, then there must be an answer.” While Hollande is under no obligation to obtain parliamentary approval for action, with public opinion deeply sceptical of military strikes, many lawmakers have called for a vote on the matter. While UK Prime Minister David Cameron had also backed the military action, the British parliament had voted against a resolution on military action. With the UK against the military action, the US is seeking other allies.
While the world debates possible military action in Syria, the conflict, which began in March 2011, has resulted in more than 100,000 people thought to have died since the uprising aginast President Assad. On Tuesday, the UN refugee agency indicated that more than two million Syrians were now registered as refugees, indicating that a further 4.25 million have been displaced within the country.
Russia – US Relations
After returning to the Kremlin for a third term as president last year, relations between Russia and the US have dramatically deteriorated as the two nations have disagreed over a number of issues which have included the Syrian crisis and human rights. Tensions peaked this summer after Moscow gave asylum to US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, which prompted President Obama to cancel his planned bilateral visit to Moscow ahead of the G20 summit. While Putin did admit that he was disappointed by Obama’s decision, he did note that the move was not a “catastrophe” and that he understood that some of Moscow’s decisions did not sit well within the US administration.
Although no official bilateral meeting is planned to take place between Obama and Putin at the G20 Summit, a White House official indicated on Wednesday that the two presidents are expected “to have an opportunity to speak on the margins of the various meetings of the G20.”