Armed rebels briefly surrounded François Hollande’s airplane in the Central African Republic’s main airport during an impromptu visit by the France’s president last week, French media revealed over the weekend.
The incident occurred on Tuesday evening, moments after Hollande had exited the Falcon 7X plane that flew him into Bangui, the capital of the conflict-torn African nation.
While the French president was meeting with the country’s transitional president Michel Djotodia in a military base within the airport compound, two 4x4s and five pickups full of Seleka rebels surrounded the presidential aircraft, the Le Parisien daily reported Sunday citing sources close to the president’s office.
With Hollande, First Lady Valérie Trierweiler, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, and some of the president’s cabinet ministers just yards away inside the military base, French special forces soldiers had a tense, although short, standoff with the rebels.
French defense officials stated that the French president had not been in any danger.
A Sudanese rebel general approached the French soldiers and after a five-minute tense discussion, he ordered his men back inside the pickups and they drove off.
The popular Le Parisien newspaper speculated as to whether the incident was planned by Djotodia – brought to power in March by Seleka fighters, whom he has since largely lost control over – to pressure Hollande.
At the very least, the newspaper said, it showed the chaos and insecurity that still reigns in the Central African Republic, despite the French-led mission to restore order that was launched last week.
Two French soldiers were killed in a firefight near the airport on the eve of Hollande’s stop over in the Central African Republic.
The Elysée Palace has remained tight-lipped over the incident at Bangui’s airport, while Foreign Minister Fabius claimed on Sunday that he had been unaware of the standoff between French soldiers and Seleka fighters.
Around 1,600 French forces have been tasked by the United Nations with protecting civilians after inter-religious violence – mainly between Christian and Muslim militias – claimed the lives of over 500 people in the capital and displaced thousands more across the country in the past two weeks alone.