File Photo: French troops in Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic, on January 16, 2014. AFP
France has suspended budgetary aid and military cooperation with the Central African Republic, accusing its government of being "complicit" in an anti-French disinformation campaign backed by Russia, a source in the French defence ministry told AFP on Monday.
"On several occasions, the Central African authorities have made commitments they haven't respected, as much in the political area towards the opposition as with regards to their behaviour towards France, which is the target of a massive disinformation campaign," the source said, asking not to be named.
While the Russians were seen as responsible, "the Central Africans are at best complicit in this campaign", the source added.
Five French soldiers advising the CAR defence ministry returned to France in April and military training has been suspended, the source added, confirming details first reported by the Paris-based investigative website Mediapart.
The French foreign ministry said that 10 million euros ($12.2 million) in budgetary aid to the CAR government would be "suspended until further notice".
However, humanitarian aid and other projects directly benefiting the Central African population, worth some six million euros, would continue, the ministry added.
The suspension underlines the extent of the rivalry between France and Russia in CAR, a conflict-wracked and deeply poor former French colony. It also reflects concern in Paris about online influence campaigns targeting its presence in Africa.
Last December, Facebook removed two networks of fake accounts based in Russia and one linked to the French military which it said were being used for interference campaigns in Africa, including in CAR.
France's decision to suspend military cooperation also comes on the heels of a similar move in Mali, where French military operations with the national army were suspended last week after a second coup in nine months.
French forces intervened in CAR from 2013-2016 in an attempt to pacify the country following the overthrow of former president Francois Bozize in 2013.
A 12,500-strong UN peacekeeping force remains in the country, to which France will continue to contribute around a dozen soldiers.
France will also maintain around 100 soldiers in a European Union-led military training operation in CAR, the defence ministry source added.
Russia has wielded increasing influence in CAR since 2018 when it sent weapons and a large contingent of "instructors" to train the Central African army.
Numerous witnesses and NGOs say the instructors are in fact paramilitaries from the Wagner Group, a shadowy private military company actively participating in the fight against CAR rebels, alongside Rwandan special forces and UN peacekeepers.