World

France prolongs troop stay in C. African Republic

PARIS (AP) — French lawmakers voted on Tuesday to continue their country's military operation in Central African Republic, but President Francois Hollande was accused of failing to foresee how difficult it would be.

The 428-14 vote in the lower house came after the top opposition lawmaker said Hollande should not have promised a short-term mission in the deeply troubled African nation. It has been torn by sectarian violence between Muslims and Christians, and U.N. and French officials have warned of potential genocide there.

The French deployment began Dec. 5 on a mission to disarm former Muslim rebels and Christian militias. Three French soldiers have died. There are now 2,000 French troops in the former French colony and 6,000 African troops.

In France, Parliament is required to approve extending such military deployments outside the country beyond four months. Tuesday's vote will now allow the French forces to remain in Central African Republic beyond April 5.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault urged U.N. peacekeepers to quickly deploy forces to the Central African Republic. "Our soldiers found a devastated country" when they arrived, Ayrault told the lawmakers, conceding that "our action is not over."

Hollande had promised a six-month mission for French troops. During Tuesday's debate, Christian Jacob, head of the opposition conservative UMP group in the lower house, said: "The president lied to us by announcing a short mission."

Jacob voiced fears that French troops "have been led into a terrible trap" that "risks becoming a quagmire for our country." He said that, in his opinion, 2,000 French troops "cannot aright a state that no longer exists."

There was no such backlash when France intervened in Mali, another former colony in Africa, in January 2013 to uproot Islamic extremists. About 1,000 French soldiers are there now.

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