French troops mandate in C Africa 'likely' to be extended: minister

PARIS - The initial six-month mandate for French troops sent to the Central African Republic to try and quell deadly unrest is "likely" to be extended, France's defence minister said in an interview Thursday.

His comments came as the United States called for an end to the "cycle of violence" in a country beset by ongoing clashes between Muslims and Christians, sparked by a coup last year by mainly Muslim Seleka rebels.

"It's likely," Jean-Yves Le Drian told French radio when asked if the mandate would be extended, two months after the United Nations Security Council authorised French and African troops to intervene in the strife-torn country.

"We have a six-month mandate from the United Nations. After that, it's renewable. At the end of the day, there must be an actual UN mission, which means peacekeepers coming.

"Otherwise this country, which is subject to regular atrocities, risks falling into chaos and it's very dangerous for a country in central Africa - near risk areas like the Sahel, the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes - to collapse."

The United Nations gave French and African troops the green light to intervene on December 5, and Paris has since deployed 1,600 soldiers to the Central African Republic.

Asked about the current situation in the country, where on Wednesday soldiers publicly lynched a suspected former rebel just minutes after an official ceremony presided by the president, Le Drian said many problems still remained.

"We avoided the worst in this country of just over four million people, where a quarter of the population is displaced, where there have been abuses for more than a year, repeated massacres, tragic, appalling situations, with a catastrophic humanitarian situation," he said.

The minister said the presence of French troops had brought back some stability to the capital Bangui, but not so for the rest of the country.

He pointed out that the upcoming arrival of a rare EU mission and a strengthened African force would eventually help extend military presence over the rest of the country.