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