French President Francois Hollande has arrived in the Central African Republic (CAR) following the deaths of two French soldiers.
Late on Tuesday, the French president arrived in the capital Bangui where two French soldiers lost their lives during a night patrol on Monday.
Accompanied by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Hollande was returning from South Africa’s Johannesburg, where he had taken part in a memorial service for anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela.
Antoine Le Quinio, 22, and Nicolas Vokaer, 23, who were both members of the crack Eighth Parachute regiment based at Castres in southwestern France, died after heavy clashes with unidentified gunmen in the capital.
At a ceremony to pay tribute to the soldiers at a base in the Bangui airport, Hollande said the 1,600-strong French forces were “necessary if one wants to avoid carnage here.”
“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.
“France is not here in the Central African Republic out of any self-interest… France has come to defend human dignity,” added the president.
France invaded its former colony after the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution giving the African Union and France the go-ahead to send troops to the CAR.
France claims the aim of the mission is to create stability in the country in order to allow humanitarian aid to reach violence-hit areas.
The recent fighting in the CAR began when Christian militias, who support ousted President Francois Bozizé, attacked several Muslim neighborhoods of Bangui.
The Red Cross said nearly 400 people were killed in a day of violence only in the capital last week.
There are many mineral resources, including gold and diamond, in the Central African Republic. However, the country is extremely poor and has faced a series of rebellions and coups since it gained independence in 1960.