PARIS (AFP) – Violence and sectarian fighting have abated in conflict-torn Central African Republic since the arrival of French peacekeepers in December, the head of the force said Sunday.
General Francisco Soriano also said the French forces had seized nearly 1,000 firearms and 4,000 other weapons such as knives and rods in the capital Bangui and across the country.
Speaking ahead of a parliamentary vote on Tuesday to extend the French mission in its former colony, Soriano said a lot of work remained to be done in the mineral-rich but impoverished nation.
The French mission’s mandate is due to expire in April.
France deployed 1,600 troops under Operation Sangaris in December in support of a 6,000-strong African Union force, and Paris recently announced it would send 400 more fighters.
“When the Sangaris force was deployed on December 5, the Central African Republic — and especially Bangui — was the scene of deadly clashes and inconceivable violence,” he told the Journal du Dimanche weekly.
“Now, even if it has not halted, the violence and fighting have decreased tremendously,” he said, adding that the daily average of incidents of violence and lynchings in the French-controlled zone had fallen from about 60 to half or even less of that.
Soriano said an extension of the mission was key, adding: “There is a lot to be done. We have to rebuild everything, starting from the security and defence forces.”
The Central African Republic has been torn by communal violence since the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels overthrew the government in March 2013 and handed power to their leader, Michel Djotodia — who was himself forced out last month for failing to rein in atrocities by his former fighters.
Violence has continued since then, as vigilantes from the Christian majority have retaliated against the country’s Muslims. On Saturday witnesses said an angry mob had lynched three Muslim civilians near the Bangui airport, where the French and AU troops are headquartered.