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Bangui, Central African Republic (AFP) Jan 02, 2014
France's military mission in the Central African Republic will not suck in its troops in an expanding role, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian vowed Thursday during a visit to the restive country's capital.
Le Drian predicted last month's deployment of 1,600 French soldiers to the former French colony to help an African force there would prove as successful as France's mission launched nearly a year ago in Mali, where an Islamist militant advance was halted.
Experts at the time, he told some of the French troops in Bangui, had predicted: "'In Mali, France is on a slippery slope' -- luckily for us, we didn't listen to those experts. I say that for Mali and I say that also for Central Africa."
Intervening in Africa "is also ensuring France's security," he said. "When there is a security vacuum, it's an opportunity for all sorts of trafficking and an open door to all types of terrorism."
France insists its UN-mandated mission to the Central African Republic is clearly defined and will not be open-ended.
However, efforts to persuade European partners to contribute soldiers to the mission have fallen short. Several countries are providing logistical support -- the United States and Britain, for instance, supplying military transport aircraft -- but are balking at putting boots on the ground.
The French deployment, which is focusing on disarming both the ex-rebel Seleka members -- mostly Muslims -- and the Christian vigilantes, has lost two soldiers in one clash early December.
The deadly sectarian violence has forced people to flee their homes, with more than 100,000 of them now in a camp close to Bangui's airport where the French military is based.
But the unrest led the aid group Doctors without Borders (MSF) to announce Thursday that it was reducing its emergency activities at the camp.
"The violence over the past two days that took place near the MSF clinic at Bangui airport caused the death of two children," MSF said in a statement. The group also said it treated some 40 wounded people there.
"It has been necessary for MSF to considerably cut back on emergency medical activities in the zone. We've reduced the size of our medical team and from now on only the most serious cases are to be taken care of before being sent to other health facilities," it said.
Analysts believe the French presence will have to be boosted given ongoing violence.
"Our soldiers have found themselves alone in a situation tougher than first thought. There will be no quick fix and our troops will probably be reinforced," Francois Heisbourg, of the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Studies, said last week in an op-ed for Le Monde newspaper.
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