Two French soldiers were killed in combat in Central African Republic’s capital, President Francois Hollande’s office announced on Tuesday, the first French casualties since he ordered a stepped-up military presence in the restive former colony to help quell inter-religious violence.
The Elysee Palace, in a statement, provided no details about the killings in Bangui late Monday other than that they died during France’s mission to restore security, protect civilians, and ensure access for humanitarian groups in the impoverished country.
French officials have warned of the dangers of the enhanced military mission alongside African Union troops, authorized under a muscular mandate approved last week by the United Nations Security Council. France’s defense minister has warned militia groups to disarm peacefully or French troops will do it by force.
The announcement of the deaths came shortly after the presidential palace said Mr. Hollande would travel to Central African Republic on Tuesday after attending a memorial in South Africa to Nelson Mandela.
French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said French forces were conducting patrols by foot and vehicle through the dusty streets of Bangui. At one point, they intervened to pull away a Muslim man, who claimed to be a merchant, from a mob that accused him of being a rebel leader.
Muslim rebels known as Seleka overthrew the government of this majority Christian nation nine months ago.
Bouts of violence in Central African Republic took an especially bloody turn last week with more than 400 deaths in two days of violence between Christians and Muslims. World leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama have called for calm.
U.S. to join French military intervention
The United States on Monday announced to deploy its military planes to transport troops from Burundi to the Central African Republic as part of a French-led effort to help quell violence there.
US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel issued such a direction to US AFRICOM to begin transporting forces from Burundi to the Central African Republic, in coordination with France, the Pentagon said.
The request in this regard was made by the French Minister of Defense Yves Le Drian during a telephonic call with Hagel.
“Minister Le Drian requested limited assistance from the United States military to support this international effort.
n the near term, France has requested airlift support to enable African forces to deploy promptly to prevent the further spread of sectarian violence in the Central African Republic,” Assistant Press Secretary Carl Woog said.
Mr. Hagel spoke with his French counterpart about the security situation in the CAR, where, under the authority of a UN Security Council Resolution, French forces are assisting the African Union-led international support mission to provide humanitarian assistance and establish an environment that supports a political transition to a democratically elected government.
“The United States is joining the international community in this effort because of our belief that immediate action is required to avert a humanitarian and human rights catastrophe in the Central African Republic, and because of our interest in peace and security in the region,” Mr. Woog said.
“We continue to work to identify additional resources that might be available to help address further requests for assistance to support the international community’s efforts in CAR,” the Pentagon official said.
The fighting in CAR began after the government of the majority Christian nation was overthrown by Muslim rebels nine months ago. Muslim rebel groups tied to an alliance organization called Seleka are clashing with Christian fighters.