12 Dec 2013

Saved from the horror: French rescue British woman in Central African Republic

French soldiers patrol on military trucks on the streets in Bangui

“Armed men came overnight” Judith said, clearly distressed, “I don’t know who they were but they surrounded the compound and then they broke in.”

We decided to give what details we had including the address to the French army. They have a very responsive captain and can generally be relied upon to get in quick and do the job here when it comes to it.

An hour later we were on our way so I called: “There’s shooting Alex. Don’t come now – please don’t. It’s too dangerous and I can’t go out or let you in. But please help.”

By mid-afternoon nothing had changed and she was begging us to get them out somehow. She, her brother, her parents and her four children had clearly endured a terrifying night and day in the Central African Republic:

“They came overnight and broke into the compound and tried to get into the house. I don’t think they were robbers. They threw gas – tear gas – at the house but the mosquito nets stopped it. I think they wanted to kidnap us.”

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ReadĀ more: latest updates on the crisis in the Central African Republic

There followed a couple of hours of somewhat tetchy and tense negotiation. The French army were ready. The suits at their embassy appeared not so ready.

Note what I said about the French embassy being a key port of call for British citizens in an emergency… and the British help transport French military hardware here from Europe.

But no – an official there was not going to help. To up the ante at that point, we got a camera on site and made sure the French embassy knew it.

The French army were now furious and ready to roll, decidedly not understanding the hold-up any more than we could.

The family were by now frantic. Darkness was under an hour away. The gunmen were coming out for another night’s killing.

Finally our cameraman called at dusk. A french armoured personnelĀ carrier was onsite – the extraction passed without incident.

Eight people at least – and one a British citizen – saved from the horror.

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