France to Train Bangui Security Forces

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, 30 July 2003

Bangui—France will train and equip three battalions of the Central African Republic (CAR) army and gendarmerie units to help restore security in the country, French Foreign Minister Dominique De Villepin said on Tuesday in the CAR capital, Bangui.

“The first battalion will be trained and equipped before the end of the year,” he said at a news conference at Bangui M’poko Airport after a three-hour visit. Noting that the transitional government's priority was the restoration of security across the country, De Villepin said that a gendarmerie mobile unit would be trained and equipped, as well as territorial units across the 623,000 sq km country.

“Thirty territorial brigades will be targeted for training, 15 of them before the end of the year,” he said.

De Villepin arrived Bangui after touring Libreville and Brazzaville, capitals of Gabon and the Republic of Congo (ROC). He said he had held talks with presidents Omar Bongo of Gabon and Denis Sassou-Nguesso of the ROC on restoration of stability in the CAR.

The regional Economic and Monetary Community of Central African States (CEMAC), which Sassou-Nguesso chairs, has a 380-strong peacekeeping force in the CAR. The force is entirely supported and equipped by France.

In Bangui, De Villepin met with CAR leader Francois Bozize, Prime Minister Abel Goumba and the Speaker of the National Transitional Council, Nicolas Tiangaye. Until 1998, France had defence accords with the CAR, with two military bases in Bangui and one in Bouar, 454 km northwest of the capital.

Soon after Bozize overthrew President Ange-Felix Patasse on 15 March, France, the country's former colonial power, sent about 300 troops to Bangui to support the CEMAC force. However, despite their presence, insecurity persisted across the country due to uncontrolled armed men.

Recent joint CAR army-CEMAC operations in the north have led to a return to normalcy in the area, where the displaced are reported to have started returning home.

To help solve the country's decade-long economic crisis, worsened by the October 2002-March 2003 fighting between government and rebel troops, De Villepin said France would provide money and technical aid to enable the CAR to “meet the conditions of the international financial community”.

He said the French government would be the CAR's “advocate” to the EC. The transitional government started consultations with the EC on 12 June over international recognition for the new administration and the resumption of EC's cooperation.

“We want to support the [government's ]efforts to re-establish full cooperation with the EC,” De Villepin said. The CAR is due to present in September a report of its achievements before the EC makes a decision.

De Villepin's visit was the first of a high-ranking European official to the CAR after the 15 March coup.