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France to send more troops to CAR as violence increases
February 16, 2014, 5:44 pm

Thousands of civilians, mostly Muslims, have fled the capital Bangui in recent weeks [Xinhua]

Thousands of civilians, mostly Muslims, have fled the capital Bangui in recent weeks [Xinhua]

The French government said in a Friday press statement that it was planning to send 400 additional troops to the Central African Republic (CAR) to help deal with the intensifying sectarian violence that has plagued the country for months.

In the same statement, French President Francois Hollande’s office called on other countries to show additional support for peacekeeping operations there. The statement also asked the UN’s security council to expedite the deployment of peacekeeping forces.

Last week, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said the sectarian strife in CAR was on the rise, asking France to bolster their presence in their former colony.

He warned that the situation might escalate to genocide, echoing similar concerns voiced by other UN officials monitoring the rapidly deteriorating situation.

Some 1600 French troops were deployed to CAR last December, after fighting erupted between Muslim and Christian militias in the country, in the aftermath of socio-political tension created by a change in regime late in 2012.

The European Union (EU) has since then also pledged to send at least 500 troops to the troubled African nation in efforts to prevent genocide.

In a statement published on February 12, Amnesty International said international peacekeeping forces “have failed to prevent the ethnic cleansing of Muslim civilians in [CAR].”

The organization described global response to the crisis as “tepid.”

Reports said that tens of thousands of Muslims have been displaced, and at least 2,000 citizens have been killed since the largely Muslim Seleka rebel group took over government last March in a country that is largely Christian.

Early in January, the country’s National Assembly selected Catherine Samba-Panza to be the next president replacing Michel Djotodia – a Muslim, and former Seleka comander – who fled the capital Bangui to Benin in early January, a move that suggested violence might be quieting down in the capital.

However, Christian militias and citizens have upped their attacks against Muslim citizens in recent weeks, claiming to be avenging crimes committed by the rebel militias last year.

Muslims have reported daily attacks against them by mobs formed of Christian militias as well as citizens. Their bodies had been dragged around Bangui’s streets after having been mutilated.

The current crisis in CAR – a mineral rich nation of 4.6 million people – began when Seleka – a rebel amalgamation of several different factions – began to move toward Bangui in hopes of removing Francois Bozize, a military officer who seized power in 2003 and has been elected president twice since then.

Analysts say that the rebel gains underscore the instability and extreme poverty that has plagued the country since independence from Paris in 1960 despite possessing vast agricultural, water and mineral resources, including uranium, gold and diamonds. The average monthly income is around $60.

In January 2013, a ceasefire was reached and an UN-sponsored peace process led to the formation of a unity government in which the president was allowed to remain in office till 2016, provided top ministerial positions went to members of the Seleka Coalition.

However, on March 23, the Coalition broke the national unity agreement and seized the capital Bangui. In the fighting, 13 South African peace-keeping soldiers were killed and 27 others wounded during a clash with the rebels. South Africa withdrew its forces.

Source: Agencies