After months of growing chaos in the Central African Republic, in December, citing potentially genocidal conditions, France’s President François Hollande took action.
He announced: “It will be a swift, efficient operation that should stop armed groups, re-establish stability and allow free and fair elections when the time comes.”
But the 1,600 French troops got bogged down, supporting an African Union force of 5,700. Analysts estimated this still wasn’t enough.
The capital Bangui calmed down, but elsewhere people were still terrorised . Feelings over whether the French should stay or not were mixed.
One resident said: “France decided on this Central African Republic mission but we don’t see it today, we don’t see them on the ground. We still aren’t safe in most of the country.”
An incident that was representative of a lack of control came on 5 February when a new transitional president chosen by parliament appeared before a crowd in which a suspected former rebel was publicly murdered.
In the space of a few months, the tables turned on the Seleka rebels who took power in March 2013. Mostly Muslim, they went on a bloody rampage, till Christian militias sprung up in self-defence. Now the Muslim population is at the receiving end of violence.
Ethnic killing has displaced a million people. The country’s total population is only 4.6 million. In Bangui, 400,000 people are living in emergency camps, especially centring on the airport. In the rural forests, another 400,000 are living in fear without the most basic necessities.
The organisation Doctors Without Borders, one of the rare NGOs present, says access to drinking water, food and medical attention are the most urgent priorities, and that more people are suffering and dying indirectly than from violent action itself.