PARIS — France said the European Union will consider a joint operation next month in the conflict-torn Central African Republic, where French and African forces are working to disarm militias and restore security. EU leaders, have just wrapped up a summit in Brussels, appear to be lukewarm about such a commitment.
At a news conference in Brussels on Friday, French President Francois Hollande said European Union foreign ministers will be presented with a range of options for an operation in Central African Republic when they meet in January.
Hollande said France is not pushing the EU to play a direct military role in stopping the violence in CAR. Rather, he said, he wants the Europeans to take on specific tasks, like protecting Bangui's airport, or offering health, sanitary and humanitarian assistance.
Hollande used this week's EU summit to ramp up his push for an European operation in CAR, where sectarian violence has killed or uprooted tens of thousands of people. An operation might also mean additional EU financing beyond what the bloc has already earmarked to support France's mission there.
But the French president said he was pushing for action by the EU. He said it is in Europe's interest to have a greater presence in Africa, and to have an EU flag as well as the French tricolor flying in CAR.
So far, EU members have been hesitant to offer more robust support. Hollande said Poland has agreed in principle to offer military transport and personnel, and that Belgium and Estonia are also ready to assist certain operations. Severeal EU countries have also offered logistical support.
The French president expects January's meeting will likely firm up these and other commitments.
European Council President Herman Von Rumpoy also urged EU members to contribute more to France's operation. He said France's intervention in CAR had helped avert a civil war and possibly even a genocide.
On Friday, there were fresh reports of heavy gunfire in the capital Bangui. Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International called this week for more international intervention to quell the violence in the country.
Human Rights Watch's emergencies director, Peter Bouckaert, said French and African forces were unable to do the job alone. "This is a country which is larger than France, and there are 1,600 French soldiers on the ground and just over 2,000 African soldiers to try to control a situation where communities are killing each other. There's simply not enough boots on the ground to stave off massacres and stabilize the situation," he said.
Amnesty said about a thousand people have been killed in CAR so far this month - a number far higher than United Nations estimates.