Four French soldiers escorting a UN force general were arrested Monday at Bangui airport, immediately triggering accusations of an “assassination attempt” on the Central African president on social networks, described by Paris and the UN as gross manipulation.
“The close protection team of General Stéphane Marchenoir, chief of staff of the Minusca Force (United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic), composed of four French soldiers, was arrested this afternoon at Bangui airport” while escorting the general who was due to fly to Paris, the embassy said in a statement on its Twitter and Facebook accounts.
Numerous private accounts then spread on social networks accusations against the French military claiming in particular that they had wanted to “assassinate” the Central African President Faustin Archange Touadéra, with many photos of their alleged vehicle and weapons “seized” during their arrest.
This incident comes at a time when relations between France and its former colony are increasingly tense, exacerbated by a fierce war of influence between Paris and Moscow, in this country’s civil war since 2013.
“The embassy deeply regrets this incident. It condemns its immediate instrumentalization on some malicious networks and the gross misinformation to which it gives rise,” wrote the French diplomatic representation Monday evening.
“They were at the airport to escort the general, it is a combination of circumstances that at the same time, the plane of President Touadéra landed,” explained the Parisian headquarters of the army.
In a statement, UNMISCA “regrets this incident and strongly condemns its use on social networks in an attempt to manipulate public opinion. “It categorically rejects the accusations of undermining state security,” the peacekeeping force concluded.
UNMISCA has about 15,000 military and police personnel in this country, which is among the poorest in the world and has been in civil war for nearly nine years.