Preliminary information from a high-level inquiry launched by France into the killing of two Indians by French soldiers in the Central African Republic (CAR) on Monday has revealed that the soldiers had faced hostile vehicles and were fired at from unidentified sources in the two hours before the shooting incident and could have mistaken the vehicles carrying the Indians as possible car bombs.
Also,six of the 15 Indians in three vehicles were injured in the shooting in CARs capital of Bangui.
While French President Francois Hollande called up Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Tuesday and regretted the incident,French officials have explained to their Indian counterparts that the situation was very volatile in the city and French troops had witnessed hostile vehicles charging towards Bangui airport and had been fired at from unknown sources in the preceding hours.
The situation in Bangui has worsened since last week after rebels have taken the city as President Francois Bozize fled the country. The French had sent 300 additional troops from neighbouring Gabon last week,in addition to the 200 already stationed there as part of its mission since 2002 to maintain peace in the former French colony.
Sources told The Indian Express that about two hours prior to the shooting incident on Monday morning,which took place outside the Bangui airport,a pick-up truck had come charging towards the French soldiers protecting the airport.
It stopped and did a U-turn before fleeing the spot after the soldiers fired warning shots. Apparently,the French troops guarding the airport,which had several foreign nationals waiting inside,faced more firing incidents.
Sometime later,three vehicles carrying 15 Indians and some Chad nationals came towards the airport,and although warning shots were fired in the air by the French soldiers,they did not stop.
The French troops,which had maintained a defensive position so far,were alarmed and fired at the vehicles carrying Indians who were working in pharmaceutical companies and travel agencies.
Official sources said the two Indians killed have been identified as Karna Bahadur from Lucknow and Krishnayya Mogaveera from Mangalore. The six injured are Rohith Kumar,Radhakrishnan Kuppuswamy,Amit Kaprani,Bharat Menghani,Chandra Kumar Kautuk and Bharat Nebhawani. They are being treated at a French military hospital in Ndjamena in neighbouring Chad.
The other seven Indians arrived in Brazzaville,the capital of the neighbouring Republic of the Congo,Monday night by a private flight and are under French army protection. The Indian mission in Brazzaville arranged for their food and accommodation.
There are about 90 Indians,who work in a plant called Jaguar Cement Factory,still inside CAR but French troops have secured the place Tuesday,sources said. From information available with India through the French government,an evacuation offer was made to the Indians but they have opted to stay inside the plant premises under the protection of French troops.
While the plant is located outside Bangui,a handful of Indians were still in Bangui,some of whom were working in a pharma company. It was this group of 15 Indians who were trying to flee the city after the takeover by Seleka rebels from north CAR,apparently backed by neighbouring Chad.
On Monday night,Prime Minister Singh got a detailed briefing in Durban from National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon and Secretary (West) in the MEA,Sudhir Vyas,on the situation and directed increasing diplomatic efforts for their safety. Also,the defence attaché at the Indian embassy in France has been asked to keep in daily touch with French authorities.
The volatile situation in CAR is having a strong echo at the BRICS Summit in Durban with the final declaration expected to condemn the developments there after the two Indians and 13 South African soldiers were killed in the past 48 hours.
France,which has reinforced its military presence there,raised the matter at the UN Security Council leading to a statement condemning the attacks and reaffirmed the importance of the Economic Community of Central African States in implementing the peace agreements. A similar reference is expected in the BRICS declaration.
The fast paced developments in the CAR date back to a deal reached with the rebels in January by which the rebels have claimed Bozize was to have given up office. Also,foreign troops – a contingent each of the South African defence forces and the French military – stationed in Bangui at the request of Bozize were to be sent back. Since this did not happen,the rebels have claimed that they did not have any option but to stage a coup.
The action has stirred emotions in South Africa with 13 troops killed and 27 injured,especially after reports came in that this contingent had been asking for reinforcements if they had to stay longer. While South African President Jacob Zuma made an emotional statement Monday praising the courage shown by these soldiers,anger is growing as details begin to pour in.