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French general says no 'ethnic cleansing' in CAR

24 February 2014, 19:21

Paris - The head of France's peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic on Monday denied claims by rights groups of ethnic cleansing, but admitted Muslims are under "intense pressure".

The country descended into chaos last March after a rebellion overthrew the government, sparking deadly violence between the Christian majority and Muslim minority that has uprooted a million people out of a population of 4.6 million.

"There is no ethnic cleansing in the country. Some sections, especially Muslims, have been subjected to intense pressure from certain armed militias," General Francisco Soriano told Europe 1 radio.

Soriano, the head of France's Sangaris force, which was deployed in December, said Muslims from neighbouring countries - especially Chad - had been evacuated.

But while some Muslims "are scared and some have been displaced, others have remained and are protected by other communities," he said.

Amnesty International said this month there was "ethnic cleansing" under way in the country, wracked by coups and political turmoil for decades.

It said it had documented at least 200 killings of Muslim civilians by Christian militia groups known as the "anti-balaka", or anti-machete, set up in the wake of the March 2013 coup by the mainly Muslim Seleka rebellion.

Soriano on Sunday said violence and sectarian fighting in the country had abated since the arrival of the French peacekeepers, adding that his force had seized nearly 1 000 firearms and 4 000 other weapons such as knives and rods.

The French parliament will vote on Tuesday on extending the mission, whose mandate is due to expire in April.

The number of French peacekeepers is expected to rise from 1 600 to 2 000 to support a 6 000-strong African Union force.



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