(BRUSSELS2) This is one of the main novelties of the European operation EUFOR RCA: the presence of Georgian soldiers. And not symbolically. It's a whole company that moved on the African ground.
A double first! This is the first time that Georgian soldiers have left for African territory, it is the first time that they have operated alongside Europeans. And the 150 men of Batumi's autonomous light infantry battalion, led by Colonel Levan Buadze, are not there to make up the numbers.
An essential presence. Let's say it clearly. Without them, there would have been no European operation in the Central African Republic (or at least not under the same conditions). Their mission is, in fact, to hold the airport. A discreet mission, probably less than visible than the city patrols, but vital. The airport is, in fact, the only route that connects Bangui to the world, whether for passengers or freight (the road route to Cameroon takes a minimum of 6 days of travel).
Interview with Colonel Buadze (*)
What are the missions of your soldiers?
The Georgian military performs three missions: 1° the security of the runways, in order to ensure that no one comes to burst onto the runways, to hinder the departure or the arrival of the planes. Each time a plane departs or arrives, the soldiers deploy along the runway to avoid any problem. 2° We do patrols around the airport, night and day, to secure the airport area and the refugee camp. We also have an emergency response section, should the need arise. 3° Since August, we have also been patrolling the city, in vehicles only, in order to ensure control of the roads and freedom of movement.
On the balance sheet?
Until today, these soldiers have accomplished their mission. Thank God we didn't have any people bursting into the airport.
Why are you present in this operation?
For us, it is a way of contributing to Europe. We were present in the NATO operation in Afghanistan and Iraq (NB: with the Americans in the 2003 operation). Georgia is turned towards the west and wants to integrate into the European Union as well as into NATO. It is also important that we bring something good for Bangui, for its inhabitants, that we allow them to live in peace.
Is Africa the first time for you, for your men?
Yes. It's the first time. But we are soldiers. And a soldier knows how to adapt. The situation is complicated because you don't really know who is enemy or friend, if the person you are talking to today is not going to shoot you tomorrow.
Is the situation improving?
Yes. The situation has actually improved. Nothing worked before. Today we see it improving little by little.
Everything is difficult. A French lieutenant-colonel (who had come to Georgia to give Georgian soldiers an introduction to Central African life) told me during training in Georgia, here it's like the cardiogram of the heart, it's regular, and suddenly it jumps. Sometimes it's calm, too calm, the calm before the storm. This is Africa.
What did you learn ?
I learned how to survive in difficult climatic conditions, heat, mosquitoes too ;-). Me and my men also learned Songo (the most spoken language in Bangui). Above all, we have seen how many people exist who have many problems but who above all need peace. It is essential for everyone. You know, back home in Georgia, the first toast at a dinner party is for peace. I wish for this country, for these inhabitants that they can have peace.
What surprised you?
Children, especially the little ones. They are great. They first learned very quickly a few words of Georgian, hello, thank you. And, in a few weeks, they learned poems, songs in Georgian.
(Comment by Nicolas Gros-Verheyde, in Bangui)
The EUFOR dentist
The contribution of the Georgian detachment is not limited to its 150 soldiers. It has a serious asset within it, integrated within the EUFOR RCA health team: a dentist ... who is not unemployed. There is little competition in Bangui! So far, he has already treated more than 400 people. The morning is reserved for Georgian or Eufor staff, the afternoon is open to "Sangaris", and other international staff or local personalities. He thus treated the prefect or the owner of the Ledger hotel, the main hotel in Bangui. He didn't speak French. But the first French word learned was a useful term... for a dentist: " spit "!
(*) Colonel Levan Buadze was seconded by the Georgian General Staff to command the national detachment. He speaks perfect French and knows a little about the practices of the French army. Which is not surprising, having followed the school of gendarmerie officers in Melun in 2001-2002 and the school of Staff in Compiègne in 2003-2004 (school now moved to Saumur). During this training, he also discovered his African counterparts (“we were 2 Europeans and 28 Africans”), a very useful discovery for this mission.