CAR leader asks France to stay until polls

The leader of the strife-torn Central Africa Republic has asked French troops to stay until polls due in early 2015, as unabated sectarian violence wrecked Paris’ hope of a quick exit.

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Catherine Samba Panza’s appeal to the former colonial power came three days after France’s decision to boost its contingent to 2000 and on the eve of a review of the deadly sectarian conflict by the UN Security Council.

“The interim president told us that they should stay until the elections, that is to stay until early 2015,” French MP Elisabeth Guigou said in Bangui.

When France launched operation Sangaris in December to prevent mass sectarian killing, President Francois Hollande envisioned a short deployment.

On Saturday however, with a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Muslims in full swing, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian admitted that the French operation could last “longer than planned”.

The French parliament is due to vote on February 25 on whether the 2000 troops deployed in Central Africa can stay longer than their initial mandate, which expires in April.

The opposition has asked for clarity on the operation’s goals but stopped short of calling for an early withdrawal.

“France cannot handle everything on its own,” Guigou, a Hollande ally who chairs the parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said after her meeting with Samba Panza.

The European Union has pledged around 900 troops and the African Union has close to 6000 already on the ground but the continent’s mediator in the crisis said more were needed.

“To achieve a nationwide footprint we need an international contingent of at least 10,000,” Denis Sassou Nguesso, the president of the Republic of Congo, told French newspaper Le Figaro in an interview.