French troops will be able to pull out of Central African Republic quickly once it elects a new president, President Francois Hollande said on Thursday.
The troops “contributed to bringing stability and preventing massacres,” Hollande said in a New Year’s speech to the armed forces. “The elections are taking place and we will therefore be able to now disengage quickly.”
France has some 900 soldiers in its former colony. The withdrawal of some of the troops has been put on hold, so they can support U.N. peacekeepers as the country votes.
The presidential election now looks headed for a second round later this month, after a first round on Dec. 30. Provisional results showed two ex-prime ministers – Anicet Georges Dologuele and Faustin Archange Touadera – in the lead but neither winning an outright majority.
Two losing candidates demanded on Tuesday a manual recount of ballots cast in the first round, saying that widespread irregularities undermined the credibility of the results.
Central African Republic descended into turmoil in early 2013 when mainly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the majority Christian nation, provoking reprisals by Christian militia fighters.
Around one in five Central Africans has been displaced in the ensuing violence, leading to de facto partition along religious and ethnic lines.
France sent some 2,000 troops to restore stability in the country but has since cut back its numbers, leaving a force capable of intervening quickly if required.