French support for Central African intervention fast eroding: poll

PARIS (REUTERS) - French public support for France's military intervention in Central African Republic is rapidly waning a month since Paris deployed troops to quell sectarian violence in its former colony, a poll showed on Saturday.

Only 41 per cent of those questioned were in favour of the operation, down from 51 per cent shortly after Paris deployed 1,600 troops in the country, according to a poll by pollster Ifop.

Paris sent troops to Central African Republic, a country the size of France, to disarm Christian militias and largely Muslim Seleka rebels who ousted ex-President Francois Bozize in March.

However, the deployment of the French troops and nearly 4,000 African Union peacekeepers has done little to contain the tit-for-tat violence between the religious communities, which has displaced nearly one million people, according to the United Nation's refugee agency.

The Ifop poll also showed that a majority of French people still support France's operation in Mali, launched in January last year to drive back militants threatening to seize Bamako.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian dismissed some commentators' growing worries that France was getting bogged down in Central African Republic, saying such concerns early on in the Mali operation had proved unjustified.

"I'm convinced that once again in the Central African Republic history will prove them wrong," he said in the text of a speech to French troops stationed in Chad.

Central African Republic, rich in diamonds, timber, gold and oil, has been racked by five coups and numerous rebellions since independence from France in 1960.

European Union nations are due to decide on a joint mission later this month after France requested help with specific missions such as protecting the airport in the capital of Bangui, providing security as well as medical and humanitarian assistance.

A previous opinion poll showed that support for France's action in Central African Republic dropped to 44 per cent a week following the deployment, after two French soldiers were killed in a firefight during a patrol.

Some 1,000 people were surveyed in the latest Ifop poll that was conducted between Dec 27 and Jan 2.

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