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Analysis: France - CAR

Will French troops bring peace to Central African Republic?

Seleka fighters going to Bossangoa, where 60 people were killed in September
Seleka fighters going to Bossangoa, where 60 people were killed in September AFP

France is to send hundreds more troops to the Central African Republic (CAR), a former colony racked by violence in the aftermath of this year's coup by the Séléka militias. The projected presence of over 1,000 will make it possible to pacify the capital, Bangui, but not the rest of the country, analysts suggest.

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Apart from Mali, where its troops led an operation that wrested the north from Islamist and Tuareg separatist rebels, France has a military presence in Côte d'Ivoire, Chad and Gabon, and some of them will now being seeing action in the CAR.

Alll these countries are former French colonies, and were part of the sphere of influence, known as Françafrique, where Paris intervened to support or topple heads of states according to its own interests.

So is this the return of Françafrique?

No or, at least, not yet, says Wednesday's editorial in the centrist Le Monde newspaper, although it neglects to mention that French nuclear giant Areva mines uranium in the south-eastern Mbomou region.

François Hollande's government refused to intervene to save former president François Bozizé - "corrupt, autocratic and nepotist" - when Séléka toppled him in March, leaving it to neighbouring countries, led by Chad and Congo, to send an intervention force, Le Monde points out.

But the new president Michel Djotodia turned out to have no control over the forces that had brought him to power, which were in fact a coalition of various armed groups, some of whose fighters came from neighbouring countries.

They have turned to pillaging, robbing and terrorising the population, giving rise to the formation of anti-Séléka militas, the anti-Balaka.

Since then "a non-religious conflict has taken a strong confessional turn", analyst Thibault Lesueur of the International Crisis Group has told RFI.

Dossier: War in Mali

Séléka militias have attacked Christian civilians, especially in the north, and anti-Balaka reprisals have targeted Muslims, prompting the UN and the US to warn of the danger of genocide.

United delegations of Catholic, Protestant and Muslim leaders last week visited the area to try to calm the growing sectarianism and this week they have returned with three government ministers, accompanied by police and about 100 troops from the African intervention force.

In Bangui itself kidnappings, murders and robberies are almost daily occurences and restoring calm there seems to be the French priority.

The planned 1,200 French troops along with other international troops already there should be sufficient for that task, Lesueur believes, but the 3,600-strong planned international force will not be enough to restore order throughout the whole country.

The intervention will be "compeletely different" to that in Mali, he warns, where there was a clearly identified enemy.

"Where not in a peace-keeping context here," Lesueur says. "The're no peace to keep. What has to be done is to fight bandits, brigands and avoid these conflicts degenerating."

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