Two French Soldiers Killed in Central African Republic --Presidency
First Reported Deaths Since France Deployed Last Week
Dec. 10, 2013 4:50 a.m. ETWSJ
PARIS—Two French paratroopers have been killed in a combat operation
in the Central African Republic, the French presidency said Tuesday.
The men were killed during an overnight operation in the capital, Bangui, a statement from the office of French President François Hollande said.
They were the first reported deaths of French soldiers since France deployed in the Central African Republic last week.
"They lost their lives to save many others," the statement said.
France dispatched 1,600 troops on a mission to re-establish peace in the landlocked country. The intervention with a multinational African force was authorized by the United Nations Security Council last Thursday is aimed at disarming violent militias.
Hundreds of civilians have been killed in the Central African Republic over recent weeks, caught in a conflict between Seleka militants—predominantly Muslim rebels who ousted the country's government in March—and groups of mainly Christian fighters who have banded together.
For months, the two militias have used a scorched-earth policy, destroying anything that might be useful to the enemy, in their struggle for control of the country, one of the world's poorest.
The two deaths raise questions about French involvement in the African country.
Mr. Hollande has said French troops wouldn't be on the front line in the Central African Republic, but rather back up the African force. However, these deaths suggest French troops are going beyond a support mission and are involved in direct combats. This could complicate Paris's objective of repatriating its troops before the summer, and hand over the peace keeping mission to a full-fledged U.N. force.
Mr. Hollande is due to stop off in Bangui on Tuesday on his way back from South Africa where he attended a memorial service for the former president Nelson Mandela.