C.African president says ‘not against France’ despite tensionsThu, 10 Aug 2023 16:49:59 GMT

The president of the Central African Republic said his country wanted good relations with France, in an interview that followed years of tension fuelled by the CAR’s rapprochement with Russia.”We are not against France,” President Faustin Archange Touadera said in an interview with AFP and France’s TV5 Monde.”I have just received France’s new ambassador to the Central African Republic. That means that cooperation between France and the Central African Republic is ongoing, and we seek to improve it, to strengthen it in the interests of our two peoples.”France, the former colonial power, intervened militarily in the chronically unstable CAR in 2013 to help stem a civil war flaring along sectarian lines.That intervention and deployment of UN peacekeepers paved the way for elections in 2016 won by Touadera.He was re-elected in 2020 in controversial circumstances, and supporters want him to run for a third term — a scenario on which he declined to comment in the interview.Relations between France and the CAR began to come under strain after Touadera in 2018 brought in paramilitaries from Russia’s Wagner group to help train his armed forces.In 2020, hundreds more Russian operatives and Rwandan troops were flown in to shore up his regime as rebel groups advanced on the capital ahead of the elections.France last December pulled out its last troops from the CAR as hostility mounted on social media.- Wagner -Asked about the partnership with Russia, Touadera, 66, said, “There are no reasons why this relationship can’t continue… the Russian authorities themselves have said so.””The Central African Republic is a country that seeks to have good relationships with all countries that wish to work with us, including France and the Russian Federation,” he said in the interview at the presidential palace on Wednesday.”Today we are conducting diplomatic efforts to enable our country benefit from (all) types of potential cooperation.”In Africa, Wagner has been accused by rights groups and other watchdogs of carrying out atrocities and pillaging mineral wealth in exchange for supporting fragile regimes.The future of the organisation, led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, became clouded after it launched a short-lived rebellion against Russia’s military top brass in June.But a private security company affiliated with Wagner said it deployed a new batch of “instructors” in the CAR ahead of the constitutional referendum on July 30.The new constitution would extend the presidential mandate from five to seven years and abolish the two-term limit.It would removing any legal obstacles preventing Touadera from seeking a third spell in office, something that a prominent opposition critic, Martin Ziguele, has condemned as a “constitutional coup d’etat”.Voters cast 95.27 percent of their ballots in favour and 4.73 percent against, with a turnout of 61.10 percent, according to provisional results issued by the National Election Authority.The results must be ratified by the constitutional court, which is scheduled to publish the definitive outcome on August 27.The vote was boycotted by the main opposition parties and civil society organisations, which contested the electoral roll and oversight, as well as by armed rebel groups.- ‘Challenges’ -Touadera declined to say whether he would seek re-election.”I am halfway through my (second) term, so I am not thinking about the next term… There’s still lots of work, lots of challenges for the Central African public and I have to provide a response,” he said.Touadera in 2019 struck a peace accord with 14 armed groups, essentially bringing warlords into the government.The level of violence fell, but parts of the country remain in rebel hands.Touadera said security in CAR was improving “but there are still challenges… pockets of intervention by armed groups here and there”.”There have been notably gains,” he said. “The proof is that we organised a referendum across the country.”