Central African Republic
Q. – Let’s talk about the Central African Republic. Needless to say, the interim President is calling for French troops to be stationed over the long term – more than a year now. Firstly, can you confirm that this could happen, and do there need to be more emergency troops, as the President of neighbouring Congo is calling for, bearing in mind that there are the French and MISCA [AFISM-CAR] troops on the ground?
THE MINISTER – There are the French and MISCA troops. There are 1,600 French and President Hollande has decided to send 400 extra troops. So there will be 2,000 French soldiers. The number of African MISCA forces is increasing to 6,000 soldiers. We have also – and this requires very firm diplomatic efforts – secured the Europeans’ support.
Mrs Ashton, the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said she could get 1,000 well trained, well equipped troops in March; that’s very important. It’s going to give us extra capacity.
Q. – And on the length of the mandate?
THE MINISTER – We’ve asked for the Blue Helmets to take over, i.e. it would be a UN operation, because it’s going to require the permanent stationing of troops. Among these troops there will be Africans, of course, and non-African soldiers. The figure quoted by the UN and Mr Sassou-Nguesso, in an interview published this morning, is 10,000 troops. We have to attain this.
Q. – So this is pretty much a permanent stationing, because the elections are going to have to be held, then a new government set up, then the issue of Christian-Muslim rivalry settled.
THE MINISTER – The Central African Republic is going to be one of those countries in the world where, to put the state back together, the UN has to intervene. It’s the United Nations’ role and France will play its part. France was the first to intervene.
Q. – It was supposed to be a six-month policing operation…
THE MINISTER – I said at the outset that we would intervene because we were looking at a situation of virtual genocide. We intervened only about four hours after the United Nations authorized us to on 5 December. We don’t intervene if there’s no international authorization.
On the eve of this intervention, there were nearly 1,000 deaths in the country. We stopped this virtual genocide. At the same time, everything has to be rebuilt, it’s very slow, very tough, and there need to be not just troops on the security front, but also considerable resources on the humanitarian front. The political transition also needs to be prepared. Ms Samba-Panza, whom I met, is absolutely remarkable, but she’s a transitional president, so the elections will have to be prepared.
Q. – Let’s be frank though, we’re there for a very long time.
THE MINISTER – We don’t imagine that as soon as the peacekeeping operation is set up, French troops will go from 2,000 to zero, but it isn’t our role to stay there permanently.
Q. – We’re going to be there more than a year.
THE MINISTER – Our intervention began in December. Previously, we had nearly 300 troops over there. I think we’ll stay, including at the start of the peacekeeping operation. (…)./.