Central African Republic releases 4 French peacekeepers after UN protest

The Central African Republic on Thursday released four French soldiers of the United Nations peacekeeping force in the Central African Republic, and their arrest drew condemnation from the United Nations, the mission said.

“The four MINUSCA personnel who were arrested … at Bangui airport have just been released,” mission chief Mankur Ndiaye said on Twitter.

The French embassy in the capital of the Central African Republic also confirmed this account via Twitter, but gave no further details.

The four soldiers were arrested at the airport on Monday. They are members of the French Foreign Legion and are of French, Romanian, Bulgarian and Italian nationalities.

The French embassy and the United Nations said they had gone there to accompany the military commander of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic, General Stéphane Marchinor, who was on a plane to Europe.

But accusations immediately spread on social media that they planned to “assassinate” President Faustin-Archange Touadera – allegations that coincided with a row with France over Touadera’s use of Russian paramilitary forces.

Posts on social media included pictures of their weapons lying on the ground, as well as their ID cards, along with a video of their arrest.

France and the United Nations have been highly critical of what they describe as media manipulation, but the Central African Republic’s prosecutor’s office said the next day it had opened a “routine investigation to highlight the facts”.

It added that the “suspicious” car was carrying four automatic pistols, three assault rifles, a machine gun and grenades, and that the four men were “less than 30 meters (yards) from the presidential motorcade.”

“Police intelligence has followed the car for the past two months,” Prosecutor Laurent Lingandi added.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the arrest and demanded the immediate release of the four.

He accused the Central African Republic authorities of failing to observe procedures when a member of the peacekeeping force was suspected of having committed a crime.

The incident coincided with French and US allegations in the UN Security Council on Tuesday that “mercenaries” from Russia’s Wagner Group, hired by the Central African Republic, killed dozens of civilians last month.

The Central African Republic descended into sectarian bloodshed in 2013 when a predominantly Muslim militia ousted former President François Bozize.

Military intervention by France, the country’s former colonial power, helped stabilize the situation, allowing the deployment of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic.

But peace today remains elusive, and powerful armed groups that arose during the conflict retain significant influence.

A coalition of them attempted to oust Toadira before the elections in December 2020, but were thwarted after Russia sent hundreds of paramilitaries and Rwanda sent its military unit.

The Kremlin describes the Russians as “unarmed trainers”, while the United Nations and France say they are Wagner employees who have committed repeated abuses.

(AFP)

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