France will not protect Central African leader

Fri, Dec 28, 2012, 00:00

The president of the Central African Republic yesterday appealed to France and the United States for help in pushing back rebels threatening his government and the capital, but Paris said its troops were ready only to protect French nationals.

The exchanges came as regional African leaders tried to broker a ceasefire deal and as rebels said they had temporarily halted their advance on Bangui, the capital, to allow talks to take place.

Insurgents have driven to within 75km of Bangui after weeks of fighting, threatening to end President François Bozize’s nearly 10-year-stint in charge of the turbulent, resource-rich country.

The rebel advance has highlighted the instability of a country that has remained poor since independence from Paris in 1960 despite rich deposits of uranium, gold and diamonds. Average income is barely more than $2 a day.

France has 250 soldiers in its landlocked former colony as part of a peacekeeping mission and Paris in the past has ousted or propped up governments – including by using air strikes to defend Mr Bozize against rebels in 2006.

But French president François Hollande poured cold water on the request for help.

French interests

“If we have a presence, it’s not to protect a regime, it’s to protect our nationals and our interests and in no way to intervene in the internal business of a country, in this case the Central African Republic,” Mr Hollande said.

“Those days are over.”

Some 1,200 French nationals live in the Central African Republic, mostly employed by either mining companies or aid agencies. – (Reuters)