French President François Hollande was to visit the Central African Republic (CAR), as France’s peace-keeping mission winds down but is marred by allegations of sexual abuse of CAR chilrdren by French soldiers.
Friday’s visit to Bangui is Hollande’s third – his last trip, in 2014, came shortly after the French military force, Sangaris, had been deployed in response to the country’s civil war.
The French operation counted 2,000 soldiers at one point; now it is down to 650 and should have merged with the international and European forces in the country by the end of the year.
Officials told the AFP news agency that France’s work in CAR was changing from peacekeeping to helping reconstruction.
Hollande was to meet President Faustin Archange Touadéra, who was elected in February, and visit a Muslim neighbourdhood in Bangui that at one point was the centre of militia violence but whose inhabitants have started returning.
His visit to the CAR takes place with several legal investigations open in Paris over allegations of sexual abuse by French and UN soldiers.
And this week the family of the French photojournalist Camille Lepage, who was killed in the CAR two years ago, appealed to Hollande to push for more to be done to establish the circumstances of her death.
The call was supported by press freedom campaign Reporters Without Borders.
Hollande was to go on to Nigeria, ahead of a security summit on Saturday with west African and central African leaders.
The visit to Nigeria follows a deal agreed two weeks ago between France and Nigeria to increase military cooperation in fighting Boko Haram, which now declares itself to be the west African arm of the Islamic State armed group, and in improving maritime security off the Nigerian coast.