France says to wind down Central African Republic force by year-end

Sun Jan 31, 2016 7:38am GMT

PARIS (Reuters) - France aims to scale back its military presence in Central African Republic by the end of the year, its defence minister said in a French media interview, as Paris continues to count on forthcoming elections to ease tension in the turbulent African country.

France currently has around 900 troops in the country. That is down from a 2,000-strong force it deployed after widespread violence broke out in 2013 involving Muslim-led rebels and Christian militias, but is well above a pre-crisis force of 300.

"At the end of the year, our objective is to be back at a (troop) level close to what it was before the crisis," Jean-Yves Le Drian said in an interview with French business weekly Challenges, published on its website on Saturday.

President Francois Hollande said this month that France would be able to pull troops out of the Central African Republic quickly once the country elects a new president.

The African state is due to hold a presidential election run-off next month after a first round on Dec. 30, which observers hope will lead to a transition to democracy after years of conflict.

However, in a setback to that process, the country's constitutional court on Monday scrapped legislative election results, citing irregularities, while hundreds of people protested in the capital Bangui on Friday, calling for the result of last month's presidential vote to be annulled as well, claiming irregularities.

France has also been embroiled in allegations of child sex abuse against foreign troops, including French soldiers, in Central African Republic, with the United Nations announcing fresh accusations by children on Friday.

Le Drian has handed over to French prosecutors information received from the U.N. about possible abuse by French soldiers, further to an ongoing investigation into previous allegations, the defence ministry said on Friday.

Central African Republic is one of several countries where the French army is engaged.   Continued...

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian reacts during a news conference at the French Defence Ministry in Paris, France, January 20, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Platiau
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