CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC: France donates military equipment worth US $3.2 millionBangui, 16 January 2004 (IRIN) - France donated on Thursday 46 military vehicles and equipment, worth US $3.2 million, for use by the army and the gendarmerie in the Central African Republic (CAR).
French Ambassador Jean Pierre Destouesse made the donation, on behalf of his government, to CAR leader Francois Bozize during a ceremony in the capital, Bangui. Bozize is also the defence minister.
The donation, part of France's effort to improve security in its former colony, included communication equipment for the vehicles.
The director of military cooperation in the French Foreign Ministry, Vice-Adml Herve Giraud, who was on a three-day visit to the country, also attended the ceremony. Giraud inspected military barracks in Bangui during his Tuesday-Thursday tour.
"I am here to assess your needs for them to be clearly identified so that we can bring the most efficient solutions," he told Bozize on Wednesday, in a speech broadcast by state-owned Television Centrafricaine.
Giraud’s visit and the military donation coincided with the end of training of the first three CAR army battalions by France. The training of the Bataillon d’Intervention Mixte et d’Appui (BIMA) was officially closed on Thursday in Kassai Barracks in Bangui, in Giraud's presence.
Also on Thursday, 160 gendarmes ended their training at the Kolongo Gendarmerie School in the city. French instructors and experts of the UN Peace-building Office in the CAR (BONUCA) instructed the new gendarmes from July to December 2003. The French donation also included military uniforms for the BIMA and for gendarmes.
"The implementation and the reinforcement of our ongoing military cooperation programmes will largely depend on the achievements of the first [trained] battalion and on the way its members maintain the equipment at their disposal," Destouesse said.
He added that the newly trained soldiers would be judged on their ability to fight armed robbers and poachers, who continue to terrorise the public in parts of the country.
Destouesse said that the new CAR army would now be able to prevent the entry of foreign troops "who loot the country," or foreign rebels "who transform your territory into a lawless space". He was referring to former rebels from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who entered the CAR in 2001 and 2002 to help the then President Ange-Felix Patasse to fight rebels loyal to Bozize.
Giraud said on Wednesday that apart from the ongoing training programmes, France would also give attention to the training of young army officers.
Giraud’s visit was the fifth by a senior French official after the visits by Foreign Minister Dominique De Villepin in July 2003, Cooperation Minister Pierre Andre Wiltzer in November 2003, army Chief of Staff Henri Bentegeat and Defence Minister Michel Alliot Marie in December 2003.
During her visit, Alliot Marie said France would support security efforts aimed at creating a peaceful atmosphere for the country's electoral process due to start in mid-2004 with a constitutional referendum.
France has about 200 troops in the capital, Bangui.