April 2 - The European Union formally launches a peacekeeping force for Central African Republic, overcoming delays due to shortages of soldiers and equipment. Nathan Frandino reports.
When Catherine Samba-Panza, the interim leader of the Central African Republic, leaves the EU-Africa summit in Belgium, she won't be going home alone. She'll be back in her country with an additional 800 soldiers -- all part of the European Union peacekeeping force formally launched Wednesday. Her country's principal backer, French President Francois Hollande, welcomed the reinforcement of troops. (SOUNDBITE) (French) FRENCH PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, SAYING: "And if France is making the main effort through the Sangaris operation, Europe and Germany are also contributing with logistical, material and financial means that allow us to support the Central African Republic in this difficult moment." Two thousand French troops are already in Central African Republic, alongside some 6,000 African Union forces. They're trying to stop the bloodshed between the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels and the Christian anti-Balaka militia. So far the violence has killed hundreds and displaced some 650,000 people within the country. About 70,000 now live in a refugee camp at the Bangui airport. Officials at the summit said the additional EU forces were delayed due to shortages of soldiers and equipment. The forces are expected to be ready in May. (SOUNDBITE) (French) EUROPEAN UNION PEACEKEEPING FORCE COMMANDER FRENCH MAJOR-GENERAL PHILIPPE PONTIES, SAYING: "The plan will be implemented progressively and it will reach its maximum planned operational capacity by the end of May. At that point there will be around 800 soldiers deployed, 75 percent of which will be performing security missions." The EU force will remain in the country for six months and cost an initial $36 million.