Regional force boosts troop numbers in Central African Republic

LIBREVILLE Sat May 18, 2013 6:16pm EDT

Central African Republic's new leader Michel Djotodia greets his supporters at a rally in favor of the Seleka rebel alliance in downtown Bangui March 30, 2013. REUTERS/Alain Amontchi

Central African Republic's new leader Michel Djotodia greets his supporters at a rally in favor of the Seleka rebel alliance in downtown Bangui March 30, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Alain Amontchi

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LIBREVILLE (Reuters) - African military chiefs agreed on Saturday to more than double the size of a regional peacekeeping force deployed in Central African Republic, where authorities have struggled to contain violence after a rebel takeover.

Thousands of fighters from the Seleka rebel coalition led by Michel Djotodia marched into the capital Bangui on March 24, forcing President Francois Bozize to flee to neighboring Cameroon.

Djotodia, a former civil servant, was later named interim president by parliament and asked to lead the country to elections within 18 months. But his fighters have been accused of grave human rights abuses.

"It is essential today to modify the mandate of the regional force deployed to Central African Republic ... It must be reoriented towards maintaining order and securing the election process," General Guy-Pierre Garcia, from Republic of Congo, told journalists.

The peacekeeping force, known as FOMAC, currently numbers 730 soldiers.

"The size of this force will be increased to 2,000 men," Garcia said following a meeting of regional army chiefs in Gabon.

Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch accused Seleka fighters of rape, looting and executing opponents - acts it said could constitute war crimes.

Seleka, a grouping of five rebel movements, launched its insurgency in early December, accusing former President Bozize of reneging on a 2007 peace deal.

(Reporting by Jean Rovys Dabany; Editing by Joe Bavier and Robin Pomeroy)

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