French warplanes flew over the Central African Republic on Saturday for the first time since a disputed election last month, President Emmanuel Macron’s office said.
Macron’s office said the flight took place at the request of President Faustin-Archange Touadera and with permission of a UN peacekeeper mission in the country.
The French president had condemned recent acts of violence during a phone call with Touadera, his office said, an apparent reference to a rebel advance which Touadera and the United Nations say has been mounted by former President Francois Bozize to thwart the election.
Touadera was declared the winner of the Dec. 27 election with more than 50% of votes cast in a single round, avoiding a run-off against any of 16 challengers. Many of the opposition candidates have demanded the election be annulled and for the vote to be repeated, citing irregularities and low turnout following violent clashes.
French warplanes also flew over the Central African Republic four days before the vote.
France has a history of repeated military interventions in the Central African Republic, most recently from 2013-2016. The United Nations now maintains nearly 13,000 peacekeepers there.
The electoral commission declared Touadera the winner with voter turnout of more than 76% despite. However, only half the country’s 1.8 million eligible voters were able to register to vote due to the rebel offensive.
A disputed election could further destabilise a country whose population of 4.7 million has endured waves of militia violence since 2013 that has killed thousands of people and forced more than a million from their homes.
Rebels, which the United Nations and Touadera say are led by former President Bozize, seized the country’s fourth largest city briefly before the vote. Macron reiterated condemnation of former President Bozize on Saturday.