French troops seemed to have managed to restore calm to the Central African Republic’s capital Bangui on Sunday. A peacekeeping force of some 1,600 soldiers had arrived over the weekend to put a stop to the country’s sectarian violence.
After several days of carnage in which the French Foreign Ministry and the Red Cross said nearly four hundred residents had died, French troops were patrolling Bangui’s main roads while helicopters flew low over town.
President François Hollande pledged on Saturday evening that his forces would remain in the former French colony “as long as necessary for this mission.”
His defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said in a television interview on Sunday that French troops would begin disarming fighters on Monday. “First we’ll ask nicely and if they don’t react, we’ll do it by force,” he said.
The Central African Republic slid into chaos when Michel Djotodia, the leader of a loose grouping of mainly Muslim rebel groups from the north of the country, took power from the Christian president François Bozizé earlier this year. Not all of the combatants who support him have heeded to his recent calls to lay down their arms. Wanton attacks on members of the country’s majority Christian population prompted them to organize in militias as well, exacerbating the religious infighting.
Djotodia offered his condolences to the residents of the capital in a radio address on Saturday and expressed his “sincere thanks and deep gratitude” to France for intervening.
Asked about Djotodia’s fate, France’s Hollande said, “We cannot keep in place a president who could do nothing.” France wants to bring election forward from 2015 to next year.