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Paris (AFP) April 03, 2014
French forces deployed in the strife-torn Central African Republic began moving into the east of the country this week, the head of the operation General Francisco Soriano said Thursday.
"The third phase (of the intervention) began this week and we started deploying in the east," he told reporters in Paris during a video conference.
"The goal is to restore state authority, end the activities of armed groups and disarm them," he said.
The troops deployed in the former French colony in December to tackle unrest sparked by a March 2013 coup that led to violence between Christians and Muslims.
In the initial phase, during the first two months of the operation, French forces worked to secure the capital Bangui, before moving into the west of the vast country to control the major trade route to Cameroon.
Soriano said the third phase became possible after President Francois Hollande in February decided to send 400 more troops to CAR, bringing the total French force in the country to 2,000, who are working alongside about 6,000 African troops.
The European Union this week announced it was finally launching a delayed military mission to send 1,000 troops to CAR and Soriano said their arrival "will allow us to increase our deployment in the east and the north of the country".
Thousands have been killed in the violence and about a million people -- a quarter of the population -- have been forced from their homes.
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