12:17 GMT +315 October 2019
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    French Sangaris forces patrolling in the Muslim PK 5 district in Bangui, as people go to the polls to take part second round of the presidential and legislative elections in the Central African Republic (File)

    Portuguese Step in to Help UN Tackle Humanitarian Catastrophe in Central Africa

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    France is withdrawing its military from the Central African Republic in order to fight Daesh terrorists in the Middle East. Portuguese soldiers will replace them, joining the UN mission to stabilize the civil war-ravaged republic. Sputnik Brazil spoke with Lieutenant Colonel Hélder António da Silva Perdigão, about the mission.

    Recently Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa visited Portuguese soldiers in the Central African Republic (CAR) who'd been sent there to participate in a UN peacekeeping operation. The Minister paid a visit to the capital of the Republic, Bangui, where Portuguese soldiers are based at an airport.

    On the ground, the Minister confirmed that the Portuguese soldiers were participating in the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).

    ​According to the information revealed by the Portuguese army, the contingent consists of 160 specially-trained soldiers.

    Sputnik Brazil contacted a public relations specialist from the Portuguese Armed Forces, Lieutenant Colonel Hélder António da Silva Perdigão, and found out that the army has undergone joint and individual vocational training, which takes into account the specialized UN mission.

    He said that the risks in these types of operations are normal and that the army is well prepared for the challenges ahead.

    Talking about the division, da Silva explained that the unit consists of four representatives from the Air Force, who will coordinate flights from the ground. There are also 11 people from the group who have been involved in the CAR since 2016, so they are familiar with the situation.

    The MINUSCA mission has seen the participation of 12,000 soldiers, 2,000 police officers and 700 civilians to date. It was deployed on April 10, 2014 and tasked with protecting civilians.

    Its other tasks include support for the transition process; facilitating humanitarian assistance; the promotion and protection of human rights; support for justice and the rule of law; and a disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and repatriation processes, as stated on the official UN website.

    “Every day we see drama in Europe, refugees from the African continent in search of protection. The best way to protect them is by guaranteeing them peace, democracy and development in the countries which they are fleeing,” the Prime Minister of Portugal said.

    ​During his visit to CAR, the minister further noted that the Portuguese will replace the French units being redeployed to fight Daesh due to the large number of terrorist attacks that have occurred in France.

    “Helping to stabilize the situation on the African continent, in order to get rid of the reasons that caused the flood of refugees, to help fight against international terrorism, to serve the [multiple] organizations that we are a part of such as the UN and the EU is an honor for us. Thanks to the professionalism of our Armed Forces, Portugal is able to participate in such operations,” Costa said.

    Although the French military is leaving CAR in order to fight Daesh elsewhere, the United Nations is looking at a number of reports suggesting that the French military sexually assaulted many of the local citizens while stationed in the republic.

    There is a reference to a case where in the province of Kemo, the French commander paid girls to have sexual relations with a dog. There have been reports saying that the commander paid at least four girls 10 euros, tied them up, stripped them naked and forced them to have sex with a canine.

    One of them, a younger girl, later died due to an unknown disease.

    Activists from the NGO Amnesty International visited the Central African Republic and also criticized the actions of the military personnel stationed there.

    “International peacekeeping troops are often absent where they are particularly needed. Sometimes they have demonstrated their inability to resist the Anti-balaka militia and are in no hurry to protect the Muslim minority, who are at risk,” activists from Amnesty International Donatella Rovera and Joanne Mariner said in a letter to a Sputnik Brazil correspondent.

    ​The activists visited the city of Bouguere, where there had been a mass murder. More than 40 were killed by the Anti-balaka militia; most of the residents had left the city and recalled the horrors that took place there.

    “The streets were full of corpses. We counted 21, including three women and even a child. The dogs ate what was left of the people. Men's bodies were half-burnt. The legs of one of them were bound together, which proves that he was kept in captivity. Residents said that there were corpses on the outskirts of the city also,” the activist said.

    The Central African Republic is one of the poorest countries of Africa. Civil war broke out in late 2012, between the rebel coalition Séléka and the government of former President François Bozizé.

    The president was accused of failing to maintain peace agreements signed back in 2011. He fled the country, while the rebel leader, Michel Djotodia, took over the office and declared himself president of the country. The UN considered the coup unconstitutional.

    The first mission to contain the conflict began in 2013, when France and the EU sent troops to CAR. The civil war has claimed thousands of lives and forced millions to leave.

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