France freezes military ties with Central African Republic

AP International

French President Emmanuel Macron talks to journalists Tuesday June 8, 2021 at the Hospitality school in Tain-l’Hermitage, southeastern France. French President Emmanuel Macron has been slapped in the face by a man during a visit in a small town of southeastern France, Macron’s office confirmed. (Philippe Desmazes, Pool via AP)

PARIS (AP) — France has suspended military operations with Central African Republic, accusing its government of failing to respect political opposition and failing to stop a “massive” anti-French disinformation campaign.

The French government is also suspending about 10 million euros ($12.1 million) in budgetary support for CAR, two French officials told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The move comes amid high tensions and diplomatic wrangling over influence in the mineral-rich former French colony. Russia has business interests in the country and also sent military instructors there last year.

Central African Republic has faced deadly inter-religious and inter-communal fighting since 2013. After a 2019 peace deal, violence erupted anew after the constitutional court rejected former President Francois Bozize’s effort to run for president again last year. President Faustin Archange Touadera won reelection in December, but continues to face opposition from forces linked to Bozize.

Rebels aligned with Bozize tried to attack the capital in January, underscoring how CAR’s military faces serious security threats that they had looked to the French for help with.

About 160 French troops who were providing operational support in the capital Bangui and training Central African forces have suspended their mission and stopped cooperating with the country’s military, a French government official said.

The decision didn’t affect the approximately 100 French troops involved in U.N. peacekeeping forces and EU training forces in the country, or French advisers helping CAR with domestic civil security, the official said.

The official said CAR failed to respect promises toward the political opposition, and failed to fight anti-French disinformation campaigns online, notably targeting the French ambassador and defense attache.

Facebook took down hundreds of accounts and groups linked to Russia and France that were accused of using fake Facebook and Instagram accounts to wage a covert disinformation campaign in CAR before the December election.

An official in French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said that CAR President Touadera ignored pressure from his country’s neighbors and France to allow open up elections to opposition figures, “but this didn’t happen.”

Both officials weren’t authorized to be publicly named.

The French decision came after France suspended joint military operations last week with Malian forces until its coup leaders comply with international demands to restore civilian rule.

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Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal, and Sylvie Corbet in Paris, contributed to this report.

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