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French Forces to Remain in CAR Until Fall

France says its contingent of about 2,000 troops will remain in the Central African Republic until at least late this year, as part of a multi-national effort to contain deadly inter-religious violence.

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Thursday that French forces would continue to help provide security in the C.A.R., where Muslims have been fleeing by the thousands to escape attacks by mostly Christian anti-Balaka militias.

French troops and about 6,000 African soldiers have struggled to contain the violence.

The U.N. Security Council recently approved an expanded peacekeeping force of 12,000 for the country. The force will become operational in September.

In an interview with VOA's French to Africa service, C.A.R. interim President Catherine Samba-Panza said "September is too far away."

She voiced concern that armed groups "might try to take advantage on the ground" before the U.N. forces arrive.

Ms. Samba-Panza also said she was taking steps to ease tensions between the country's Christian and Muslim populations. She said that a Cabinet reshuffle, announced Tuesday, is designed to provide "balanced representation" from all of the country's regions.

As she marked her first 100 days in office, she told VOA that she knew her job would be hard but "was not aware it would be so difficult."

Lawmakers elected Ms. Samba-Panza in a January run-off. She replaced former interim leader Michael Djotodia, who resigned under international pressure following his failure to stop the country's spiraling violence.

The C.A.R. descended into chaos last year after mostly Muslim Seleka rebels toppled President Francois Bozize.

Attacks and looting by Seleka forces sparked retaliatory attacks by the anti-Balaka.

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