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France deploys troops to C. African Republic

BANGUI, Central African Republic -- French troops rumbled into Central African Republic on Friday, trying to quell violence in the capital a day after armed Christian fighters raided Muslim neighborhoods, leaving nearly 100 people dead.

France began sending reinforcements within hours of a U.N. vote Thursday authorizing its troops to try to stabilize the country. But French officials insisted the mission's aims are limited — to bring a minimum of security to Bangui, where people now fear to leave their homes, and to support an African-led force.

“You have to secure, you have to disarm,” French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told Radio France Internationale. “You have to ensure that the vandals, the bandits, the militias know they can't use the streets of Bangui for their battles.”

The streets of Bangui were deserted Friday morning, with the only vehicles on the road belonging to either international security forces or the rebel fighters who claim control of the government.

There was no repeat of the clashes that left nearly 100 people dead in Bangui on Thursday, Le Drian said.

But since thousands of armed Muslim rebels invaded Bangui in March, the city remains awash in weapons. Recent attempts at disarmament have yielded little in a near-anarchic state.

Since 2011, France has intervened in four African countries, in Ivory Coast, on a joint mission in Libya, in Mali and now in Central African Republic.

In January, France sent in 5,000 troops to Mali to quash al-Qaida and other radicals in the north who were seen as a terrorist threat to countries around the region. That dwarfs the mission in Central African Republic, where 1,200 French troops are to help an African force secure the nearly lawless country as Muslim rebels run rampant after toppling the president in March.

And it's not clear how France can achieve even its limited goals in the space of six months.

“There's a big gap between the vision France has of itself as a global power and as a power that can intervene,” said Aline Leboeuf, a security and development specialist at the French Institute for International Relations.

The real question, she added, is: “Can you intervene in the right way and when do you leave?”

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Members of a police unit of the African-led International Support Mission in the Central Africa (MISCA) patrol near the presidential palace in Bangui on Thursday, Dec 5, as shots rang out and blasts from heavy weapons rocked several districts of the Central African capital amid communal tensions ahead of a U.N. vote authorizing force to stop the country's descent into chaos. (AFP)

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