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Last French troops leave Central African Republic as closer Bangui-Moscow ties deepens

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The last French troops deployed in the Central African Republic left on Thursday following a chill in relations caused by closer ties between Bangui and Moscow, an AFP reporter saw.

Forty-seven troops from a logistical support unit left Bangui airport aboard a C-130 transporter aircraft, becoming the last of a 130-person French contingent to leave the troubled country.

France, the former colonial power, dispatched up to 1,600 troops to help stabilise the country after a coup in 2013 unleashed a civil war along sectarian lines.

The operation, named Sangaris, was France’s seventh military intervention in the CAR since the country gained independence in 1960.

It wound up in October 2016 after elections, leaving a residual French presence.

Over the last few years, friction has grown between France and CAR over a mounting Russian military presence.

In December 2020, President Faustin Archange Touadera brought in Russian paramilitaries to help him fend off rebel groups advancing on the capital.

The CAR describes the Russians as military advisers but France, the UN and others say they are mercenaries from the Kremlin-backed Wagner group, who have been linked with atrocities and looting of resources.

Paris last year decided to suspend military cooperation with Bangui, deeming it complicit in an anti-French campaign allegedly steered by Russia.

“France decided that the conditions were no longer appropriate for us to continue working for the benefit of the Central African armed forces,” General Francois-Xavier Mabin, commander of French forces in Gabon, told AFP.

French troops in the CAR, stationed at Bangui airport’s M’Poko base, have provided logistics for the European Union Training Mission and a contingent of the UN peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).

Earlier this year Paris withdrew the last of its troops from former colony Mali.

They had been deployed since 2013 to help the country fight a jihadist insurgency.

Relations between France and Mali plummeted after the military seized power in Bamako in August 2020 and eventually brought in Russian paramilitaries.

CAR ranks among the poorest and most unstable countries in the world. Swathes of territory lie in the hands of rebel groups that trace their roots to the 2013 conflict.

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