Central African Republic marches demand French troops out

The French government has admitted that 1,600 of its troops are now deployed in the Central African Republic, a former French colony. The CAR has faced internal fighting between the governing Muslim-dominated Seleka coalition and the opposition “anti-balaka” forces, which are heavily Christian.

The U.N. Security Council authorized French intervention earlier in 2013, but the government of Francois Hollande has now requested additional troops to assist its military contingent and soldiers from Chad, acting in the name of the African Union Mission to CAR (MISCA).

Hollande says the French military will be in the CAR for only six months. France made similar claims regarding its invasion of Mali one year ago, where thousands of French troops still remain.

Interim CAR President Michel Djotodia remains in his palace in Bangui after seizing power in March 2013. Djotodia overthrew the government of Francois Bozize, who had come to power through a coup 10 years earlier. Fighting continued during the last week of 2013.

Chadian troops have been accused of supporting the Seleka coalition, while French imperialism is said to be more sympathetic to the Christians, who make up 85 percent of the population. Both governments have denied political favoritism in the conflict.

Thousands demonstrate against ­occupation

Despite public statements by the Hollande government claiming impartiality, the Muslim population of the CAR is increasingly dissatisfied with France. A Dec. 24 demonstration in the capital demanded that Paris withdraw its troops from the country. A Dec. 26 Associated Press report stated that “Dozens of Muslims marched down the streets of Bangui on [Dec. 24] to demand the departure of French troops, who were deployed to the Central African Republic this month to try to pacify fighting but instead have been accused of taking sides in the nation’s sectarian conflict. The marchers, almost all of them young and male, began their demonstration in the Kilometer 5 neighborhood, a mostly Muslim section of the capital that has been the scene of clashes with French forces.”

A much larger demonstration on Dec. 22 enjoyed the participation of thousands of Muslims. They accuse France of attempting to disarm the Seleka coalition. There have been reports of mass killings of Muslims by anti-balaka militias seeking to remove President Djotodia.

This same AP article points out how the demonstration was explicitly ­anti-French, noting that “the crowds making their way down the deserted city streets were holding signs that said: ‘We say No to France!’ and ‘Hollande = Liar.’ Other signs had a hand-drawn map of this nation located at the heart of Africa, but showed the country split in two, with a Muslim homeland penciled in in the north.”

Such sentiments could broaden opposition to the French occupation and prompt the Hollande government to request additional foreign intervention. But recent surveys in France indicate that public support — which was never very strong — is declining for the military operation in the CAR. (Prensa Latina, Dec. 15)

Hollande’s call for a broader U.N. force coincided with an open letter published in the Dec. 27 Washington Post jointly signed by Dieudonne Nzapalainga, archbishop of the Catholic Church in Bangui, and Omar Kabine Layama, president of the Central African Republic Islamic Community. This letter was tantamount to a public appeal for more U.S. and French involvement in the country.

Meanwhile, sentiments are also running very high against the presence of Chadian troops, who have fought alongside France in its Malian campaign since early 2013. Several Chadian soldiers have been killed in the CAR, along with at least two French soldiers.

During a demonstration near the airport outside Bangui on Dec. 23, Chadian troops opened fire on protesters, killing at least one person and wounding several others. The demonstration, held by members of the CAR Christian community, called for the resignation of Djotodia and the withdrawal of Chadian troops from the country. It appears that the French intervention, backed up by the U.S., may have the opposite impact from what was intended.

The CAR has a relatively small population of less than 5 million people but contains substantial mineral wealth of interest to the imperialist states. The mining of gold, diamonds, uranium and other mineral deposits make up only 7 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Western capitalists are very interested in exploiting these resources on a broader level but need firm control over the political and security situation to do so.