Country Report Central African Republic August 1997 Main report

Political scene: CAR suffers French military cuts

The newly elected French Socialist government led by Lionel Jospin has moved rapidly to exploit confusion among the defeated right-wing parties and translate its ideas for a rethink of Africa policy into concrete action. On June 25, the defence minister, Alain Richard, announced that France would reassess its defence pacts with African governments. The Socialists feel that France can no longer be seen as the continent's gendarme, propping up friendly governments, even if they are corrupt or undemocratic. The party wants French troops to take a background role, staying out of domestic affairs in African countries. Where peacekeeping forces are needed, French troops would generally stay out of the front line and confine themselves to providing logistical back- up for African forces. Mr Richard specifically cited MISAB--where 50 French soldiers provide technical support to a 750-strong African force-- as a model for the future. Less than a month later, the respected Paris newspaper Le Monde revealed that the Socialists were drawing up plans for a 40% cut in the number of French troops in Africa, which now stands at 8,350--including 1,850 in the CAR, stationed at Bangui and Bouar. In August, after a visit to the region, Mr Richard confirmed that the Bouar base would be closed in a few months' time, while the Bangui base would be substantially reduced in size. This move is partly dictated by the rethink of Africa policy and partly by France's move to phase out compulsory national military service, with the long-term goal of creating purely professional armed forces. There is also a political component, with the cuts regarded as a symbolic reproach to Mr Patasse, who has in the past sought to make capital out of the presence of French troops in the CAR.

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