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France to pull out troops from Central African Republic

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Paris, Dec 5 (IANS) French Defence Minister Jean Yves Le Drian on Friday announced "a progressive" pullout of French forces sent to the Central African Republic (CAR) a year ago, as UN peacekeeping forces are deployed in the African country.

"France will gradually withdraw from the Central African Republic. Currently, there are 2,000 (personnel) and they will be 1,500 in the spring. We will reduce our presence according to the deployment of UN forces," Xinhua quoted Le Drian as saying.

In an interview with the news channel BFMTV, the minister added that Paris would keep a presence to support the UN with a rapid reaction force as "tensions still exist" in the former French colony.

A year ago, France began a military operation in the African country "given the emergency" after clashes between Christian militias and largely Muslim Seleka rebels claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians and forced thousands more to flee.

The Central African Republic, a country of 4.6 million people, has been haunted by instability and poverty since its independence from France in 1960. It is listed by the UN as one of the poorest nations in the world despite its rich natural resources.

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