CAR - Interview given by M. Laurent Fabius
Q. – The disarmament of the militias in the Central African Republic is due to begin today. Are the French troops already in contact with those fighters?
THE MINISTER – Yes, of course. The disarmament of all the militias is going to begin this morning. We’re going there, with the other African countries, to restore security, make it possible to face up to the humanitarian challenge and begin the democratic transition. This obviously requires the militas to be disarmed. It’s not an easy job, but our soldiers are very professional and well-prepared.
Q. – Your colleague Jean-Yves Le Drian said yesterday evening: “First of all we’re going to ask them nicely to disarm and then, if that doesn’t work, we’ll use force.”
THE MINISTER – We’ve explained to everyone – it’s been said through the different media outlets available – that the weapons must be returned. President Djotodia has said the same thing. So we’re going to make contact and then, if that’s not effective enough, force will be used.
The difficulty is that many members of the militias, and particularly those of the former Séléka – have taken off their uniforms and put on civilian clothing. So we’ll have to ask for the weapons, but it’s obviously difficult to recognize individuals.
Q. – Opinion [in France] is divided about this intervention, according to initial polls. What interests is France defending in the Central African Republic?
THE MINISTER – The problem is that the polls you’re talking about weren’t carried out at the same time. So you have to be honest. The first was done before the intervention. A majority of those polled spoke out against the intervention. That’s understandable. People don’t know the Central African Republic. By contrast, the second, which was done after the intervention, shows a slight majority in favour of the intervention. (…)
What specific interests are we defending?
Firstly, I’d like to repeat that there are people who are being murdered in a country that is close to ours because of its history. We can’t let people be murdered.
Secondly, it’s worth remembering that our intervention is being carried out at the request of the Africans but also of the international community. Our intervention falls within the framework of a United Nations resolution that was passed unanimously last week.
Thirdly, being present in Africa – which is the continent of the future, including for us – means of course being there when it’s difficult.
Q. – So it’s not interests we’re defending but values – would you say that?
THE MINISTER – We’re defending values, but also our interests – not in the material sense. Look at a map: you have America in the west, Asia in the east and you also have a Euro-African continent, which is the continent in which we must be very present and which is a continent of the future.
Q. – You’ve said Euro-African and not Franco-African, but we don’t know where Europe is in all this.
THE MINISTER – Europe is going to be present essentially at financial level. It’s committed itself to the tune of €50 million.
There will also be logistical assistance. The British, for example, have made a transport plane available to us. The Germans, the Belgians and the Spanish are also going to help us.
It’s true, however, that Defence Europe doesn’t exist. We regret it, but it doesn’t exist.
Q. – It’s not just a matter of logistics, either, it’s a matter of political will…
THE MINISTER – Yes, that’s completely true, because our European neighbours think the French are more effective.
But it isn’t France’s role to intervene continually in Africa… The solution to security problems in Africa must come from the Africans themselves. We talked about it all weekend with the 40 African heads of state who were present in Paris for the summit France organized on peace and security in Africa. A pan-African force to react to crises must be established in future, with our support and Europe’s. I repeat, it’s not for France to intervene every time.
Q. – But they’re badly equipped and not necessarily trained for these operations.
THE MINISTER – Yes, but it’s the solution. (…)
Q. – We know military interventions are expensive, so in a period of crisis this will no doubt cost a few more in taxes for French people as a whole?
THE MINISTER – It’s true that, in general, interventions have a cost. This one will have a minimal cost because we’re using troops who were already present in the neighbouring countries. Moreover, Europe is going to finance all this. We must also bear in mind the cost of not intervening. Not intervening would work out as even more expensive. In these kinds of situations, you can’t contemplate a laissez-faire policy. It’s better for it to happen before the situation deteriorates even further, with thousands or even tens of thousands of deaths. And there isn’t only the financial aspect. France must project its influence and fulfil its international duties.
Q. – Haven’t the economic rules imposed on Africa reduced the weight of the state and encouraged instability?
THE MINISTER – It’s true that there’s a very close correlation between security and development. If there’s no security, there can be no development or investment. If there’s no development, there can be no security, because poverty breeds insecurity.
Action needs to be taken on both these fronts. The security of these countries has to be stepped up and it’s often at inter-African level that this has to be done because the countries are reluctant to devote sufficient budgets to their defence. At the same time, we have to promote development in other ways.
Q. – Regarding the Central African Republic, is establishing a stable, legitimate regime one of your objectives?
THE MINISTER – Yes! Of course, establishing a stable regime is one of our, and the UN’s, objectives. In the resolution which asks the Africans and France to intervene, there’s a security aspect, a humanitarian aspect, and a political aspect concerning the democratic transition.
Elections were set to be held in February 2015 at the latest, but at the Elysée conference, which has just taken place in the presence of the United Nations Secretary-General and African heads of state and government, the unanimous view was that this date was too far away and that it was therefore necessary to try and move faster.
Democracy comes through elections, even though these aren’t enough – because, at the same time, the state needs to be reconstituted. But they can’t be replaced. So the conditions must be created for these elections to be legitimate and fair.
Q. – In the meantime, President Djotodia has to go?
THE MINISTER – There’s perhaps some confusion. What’s envisaged is for neither the current president, Mr Djotodia, nor the Prime Minister, nor any of the members of the current government, nor the National Assembly bureau, to be able to stand in future elections. This was decided by the neighbouring African countries and agreed to by the African Union and the UN. So when the elections take place, these people won’t be able to stand. That’s clear. In the meantime, there’s a president, Mr Djotodia, a prime minister, Mr Tiangaye, and a government, which are internationally recognized as the transitional authorities. So we’re working with them, even though they and the people they are dealing with are obviously having difficulties.
Q. – Yes! A reminder that the President is a former rebel leader.
THE MINISTER – Exactly. (…).