France, C.Africa leaders set sights on ‘constructive partnership’Wed, 17 Apr 2024 18:49:59 GMT

France’s President Emmanuel Macron and his Central African counterpart Faustin-Archange Touadera on Wednesday agreed to work towards a “constructive partnership” after a fallout over growing Russian influence in the former colony.Touadera, who looks set to seek a third term next year, was on his second visit to Paris in months to ease tensions after a similar trip in September.”The leaders backed a roadmap… to set up a framework for constructive partnership that respects state sovereignty,” said a joint statement by France and the Central African Republic (CAR).The roadmap would see France “contribute to stability… and accompany economic and social development” in CAR.France has in recent years criticised the growing influence of Russian mercenary group Wagner in the former French colony plagued by poverty and civil conflict, accusing the paramilitary force of abuses and plundering natural resources.France had remained very influential in Bangui and maintained a military presence following independence in 1960.But it pulled back after a large number of Wagner troops arrived in 2020 and probably saved Touadera from rebels who were at the gates of the capital. In exchange, Wagner was allowed to mine gold, diamonds and African wood.Macron in 2021 said Touadera had become a “hostage” of Wagner.France pulled out its last troops from CAR the following year.Touadera in July last year pushed through a new constitution enabling him to run for a third term in office in next year’s election.Human Rights Watch said last month that for the past two years the Central African Republic’s ruling party and its supporters had “waged a crackdown on civil society, media and the political opposition”.The same rights watchdog said in 2022 there was “compelling evidence” that Russian paramilitary troops were committing serious rights abuses and killing civilians in CAR.