French troops should start pulling out of the violence-ravaged Central African Republic (CAR) on 15 September, the general in charge of the Sangaris operation said on Friday. Despite protests against them in Bangui, he insisted his soldiers are "appreciated by the population".
Sangaris was named after a notably short-lived African butterfly on the grounds that it would be a brief mission to restore peace to a country wracked by war, political crises and growing sectarian divisions.
That was on 5 December 2013 and the mission is far from being accomplished.
But a UN force is supposed to take over and General Francisco Soriano told Europe 1 radio that it will be operational as from 15 September.
That should allow French troops to begin their withdrawal, although "we will work with it until it is at full capacity, which should be before the end of the year".
Admitting that the Muslim population of the capital, Bangui, is "suffering" due to threats and attacks by Christian anti-balaka militias, he claimed that the situation is improving.
And, although there have been demonstrations against foreign troops, including the French, he insisted that the population appreciate the work of Sangaris.
A preliminary report submitted to the UN Security Council on Thursday concluded that it was too early to talk about ethnic cleansing or genocide in the CAR but said that both the anti-balaka and the Muslim Séléka armed groups had committed crimes against humanity.