Minister explains Central African Republic operation

Central African Republic/government statement in the Senate on the engagement of the armed forces – Speech by M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister of Defence (excerpts)

Paris, 10 December 2013

(…)

The framework for Operation Sangaris is indisputable. France is acting on the basis of a United Nations mandate. It’s responding to the appeal issued by the African Union on 13 November. It’s also responding to a request for assistance from the Central African Republic’s transitional authorities.

Our objectives are clearly defined.

Firstly, we must restore security to the Central African Republic, halt the spiral of brutality and the sectarian abuses, and enable the humanitarian organizations to return and basic state structures to be rolled out.

Secondly, we want to encourage the swift strengthening of MISCA [AFISM-CAR] and enable its full operational deployment. MISCA must in fact be in a position to ensure control of the security situation, disarm the militias and facilitate the political transition.

As the President has said, our intervention will be swift; it’s not set to last. It’s fully consistent with the message of the Elysée Summit for Peace and Security in Africa: Africa’s security is the Africans’ responsibility.

Our forces are engaged, as a matter of urgency, in support of the African contingents of MISCA, whose action has already begun and will be reinforced. Indeed, the African Union has announced that it will quickly increase its presence on the ground from 2,400 to 6,000 troops. These troops come from all the countries in the region. Our forces’ disengagement will begin as soon as the situation allows it, depending on developments on the ground and the strengthening of the African forces’ operation capabilities. It must be a matter of a few months.

We know it will take time to disarm the militias, train new Central African security forces and successfully complete an electoral process. That’s the long-term role of MISCA. Resolution 2127 provides for it to be replaced by a United Nations peacekeeping operation, if the Security Council so decides, to strengthen it and provide it with a more robust framework, including in terms of funding. The EU will also be able to contribute to it, particularly thanks to the instruments of the Common Security and Defence Policy.

I welcome the speed and quality of our forces’ action on the ground. Thanks to the complementary nature of our prepositioned capability in the region and the forces on alert in France, we managed to increase our troop presence on the ground to 1,600 in the space of two days. Thanks to the rapid reinforcements deployed in Bangui and elsewhere, particularly in Bossangoa, we managed to prevent large-scale massacres, at a time when the situation in the capital was becoming critical. You’ve read the reports by observers and non-governmental organizations, whose involvement I welcome.

Our troops, alongside the African forces, are making the most sensitive sites secure, particularly the airport and the assembly areas for our compatriots, who number nearly 800, including 500 with dual nationality. Those troops are maintaining a constant presence through patrols, which play a key deterrent role. They’re already involved in confining the armed groups to barracks and disarming them in order to restore calm and security. They’re encouraging a return to conditions whereby state structures essential for a lasting solution to the situation in the country can operate normally.

Ladies and gentlemen senators, let’s be clear: the Central African Republic isn’t Mali. The situation on the ground is different. The armed groups aren’t pursuing the same objectives. However, I hear the same concerns again.

I hear concerns about our resources. Yes, France has the capability to act today! The funding of Operation Sangaris is provided for in the state budget, as shown by the safeguard clause included in the military estimates bill that we’ll be examining shortly. France will also be able to [act] tomorrow, in the framework defined by this bill, with capabilities perfectly suited to the simultaneous conduct of operations such as those carried out in Mali and the Central African Republic.

I hear concerns about our stance, albeit rarely. No, France isn’t acting as Africa’s gendarme! It’s quite simply shouldering its international responsibilities. It’s responding to the call by its African partners and facing up to the absolutely urgent task of preventing a spiral of massacres. The Elysée Summit for Peace and Security in Africa provided an opportunity for all Africans to send a unanimous message about the need to strengthen African capabilities to respond to crises on the continent. Creating a real pan-African rapid reaction force will galvanize Africa and its partners in the coming months.

I also hear concerns about our supposed isolation. No, France isn’t alone! It enjoys political support from all the members of the UN Security Council. The UN Secretary-General made an urgent appeal again last Friday on the situation in the Central African Republic.

France is also acting alongside the Africans, grouped together in MISCA. The EU has supported it from the outset. The President of the European Council, who took part in the Elysée summit, emphasized the risks which the destabilization of African countries posed to the security of Europe as a whole. Europe is working on the ground, with an airlift set up yesterday between Douala and Bangui to transport essential humanitarian aid. Europe is providing its funding capabilities.

Those member states with the necessary operation capabilities are also getting involved. Without waiting, the UK and Germany made air capabilities available to France and the Africans. Belgium is preparing to provide its support. Other countries have let us know they’re available. I thank them in advance for this.

The United States will, in the coming days, be providing transport capabilities for the African contingents, and they’ve promised $40 million for MISCA. The EU is already funding it to the tune of €50 million and is looking at how to get involved quickly in the area of training.

Because, beyond the emergency, the future must be prepared. And that future involves, in particular, restructuring the security forces and restoring state authority and public services. Above all, the political transition will have to be completed. For too long, the Central African Republic has been the helpless victim of weak authorities, failed governance and interference by external players. It’s our wish to draw a line under that, as the French President will say during his visit to Bangui this evening, on his way back from South Africa.

Along with the Central Africans, the countries in the region have sketched out a transition process that must lead to free, transparent presidential and general elections as soon as possible. The Central African authorities have pledged to complete this transition successfully. The international community will show the greatest vigilance. On it depends the rebirth of the Central African Republic. (…)

In these circumstances, the unity of the nation and of all the political parties is essential. (…)

We owe this unity to our soldiers, who, at risk to their lives, are taking action in a new theatre. (…)

We also owe this unity to the Central African people, who have suffered hardships for too long and who have a right to expect a better tomorrow. The current crisis can, I’m convinced, be overcome and give way to the resumption of inter-community dialogue, national reconciliation and the prospect of development. France will show solidarity.

Finally, we owe this unity to Africa, particularly the countries of central Africa, who have mobilized in exemplary fashion and asked for France’s help. France is shouldering its international responsibilities and keeping its word by standing by their side. It’s respecting its values, which are at the heart of our Republic.

Ladies and gentlemen senators, one of the greatest men the African continent has known said: “This must be a world of democracy and respect for human rights, a world freed from the horrors of poverty, hunger, deprivation and ignorance, relieved of the threat and the scourge of civil wars and external aggression and unburdened of the great tragedy of millions forced to become refugees.” That man was Nelson Mandela.

It’s the freedom of Central Africans, and their aspiration to regain peace and security and benefit from the most basic humanitarian assistance, that our soldiers are defending today, with the African forces. This cause is just. It reflects the very idea that France has of its place in the world.

The President and the government opted to take action. As this responsibility is taken on once again, I know that we’ll remain united so that our soldiers are stronger and France’s goals are fully achieved. (…)

This isn’t policing but a military operation. We must disarm all the militias, Séléka and anti-balaka, until an army is formed that’s worthy of the name.

Humanitarian chaos and a collapse of security – the speakers clearly said this – justify our intervention. We’re intervening out of solidarity and duty, because of the security risk, so that an area of lawlessness isn’t allowed to become established in the region, a crucible of violence of the Boko Haram kind which would threaten African states and Europe alike. Our mandate is clear: to ensure a minimum level of security through disarmament, in order to dispatch food aid, which can’t currently be provided.

You are well aware of this, since people are being murdered right outside hospitals in Bangui. Second goal: to support MISCA, whose troop numbers will be increased to 6,000 following the decision taken at the Summit for Peace and Security [in Africa]. Finally, to ensure the political transition, which will have to take place before 2015. The African heads of state meeting at the Elysée affirmed this last Saturday by adopting more demanding goals than those set out in the Libreville roadmap, modified by the N’Djamena roadmap.

It will be a strong, swift intervention. On the other hand, it would be irresponsible, five days after it gets under way, to give you the exact end date. The timeframe will be six months, perhaps a little more or a little less, given that our forces have been in Bangui since the previous coup d’état.

The European Union? The UN resolution is intended for the Africans, supported by France. That doesn’t prevent Europe from helping us. Britain and Germany are providing us with their logistical support; Belgium is thinking about it. This crisis must provide an opportunity to think about mobilizing our battlegroups; this is typically what they were formed for. France will put the question to its European friends. (…)

Let me come back to the transition in the Central African Republic. The President and Prime Minister have undertaken not to stand in future elections. If they still have any semblance of authority, let it be used to implement the cantonment and disarmament. I’ve no doubt President Hollande will be saying this to them this evening.

Yes, we must take a comprehensive approach to development. A donors’ conference will take place at the beginning of next year. We aren’t at that point yet: to begin with, order must be restored by putting a stop to the violence and looting.

A note of optimism to end with. I was impressed to see the African heads of state and government’s realization of the need to build collective security in Africa by forming a rapid reaction force and ensuring the security of maritime traffic in the Gulf of Guinea. (…)./.

Published on 16/12/2013

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