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French intervention in CAR vital: Hollande

BANGUI, Central African Republic--President Francois Hollande on Tuesday said France's intervention in the Central African Republic is dangerous but vital to avoid a bloodbath, during a visit to shore up morale after two elite French soldiers were killed.

Hollande flew into the curfew-bound capital Bangui from Johannesburg after attending a memorial service for South African peace icon Nelson Mandela.

Upon arrival, the French leader paid tribute to his country's two fallen soldiers, bowing before their coffins at a base at Bangui airport.

The French campaign to restore security in its former colony is “dangerous” but “necessary if one wants to avoid carnage here,” he said.

“It was time to act,” Hollande said. “In Bangui itself, nearly 400 people were killed ... There was no time to procrastinate,” he added, referring to a day of bloodshed last week.

The first losses of the French campaign overnight Monday underlined the risks involved in a complex mission to disarm rogue rebels who have plunged the country into chaos and fuelled Christian-Muslim violence.

Antoine Le Quinio, 22, and Nicolas Vokaer, 23, both members of the crack Eighth Parachute regiment based at Castres in southwestern France, died after a fierce firefight during a night patrol in Bangui.

France has deployed 1,600 troops to halt the sectarian-tinged violence in the impoverished but mineral-rich country.

“France is not here in the Central African Republic out of any self-interest,” Hollande said. “France has come to defend human dignity.”

In a statement earlier Tuesday, he said the two paratroopers had given their lives to save many more.

Hollande repeated his call for a general election to be held in the second half of next year, rather than in early 2015 as currently planned.

During his brief four-hour visit, Hollande held talks with Michel Djotodia, the country's interim president who led the so-called Seleka rebellion that began 12 months ago.

The French president, who has accused the former rebel leader of doing nothing to stop the sectarian violence, also met with religious figures before departing Bangui late Tuesday.

U.S. President Barack Obama has authorized the release of US$60 million in military aid for the Central African Republic.

The White House said the aid would be funneled to France, the African Union and other countries contributing forces to an international coalition in the Central African Republic.

Djotodia's Seleka rebels captured Bangui and ousted President Francois Bozize in March.

Djotodia became the country's first Muslim president, but while some Seleka members remained loyal to him, others started terrorizing the population and government forces were powerless to stop them.

Months of massacres, rapes and looting followed, with locals forming Christian vigilante groups in response.

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French President Francois Hollande speaks with French soldiers after paying tribute to the two French soldiers who died in Bangui, in the Central African Republic on Tuesday, Dec. 10.

(AFP)

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