UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council approved on Tuesday the planned deployment of European troops to Central African Republic in a bid to stop violence between Christians and Muslims as the country’s president called for a U.N. peacekeeping mission.
Almost one million people, or a quarter of the population, have been displaced by fighting since the mostly Muslim Seleka rebel group seized power in March last year in the majority Christian country. At least 2,000 people have been killed.
The United Nations has warned that the conflict in the landlocked former French colony could spiral into genocide. France sent 1,600 troops to Central African Republic last month to assist some 5,000 African Union peacekeepers, while the European Union agreed last week to send around 500 troops.
Central Africa’s interim President Catherine Samba-Panza said on Tuesday that she has written to the United Nations to call for the African peacekeeping force to be transformed into a larger U.N. operation. She said the violence had continued despite the presence of the African and French troops.
“It means that the number of troops is insufficient to restore and ensure security for the population,” Samba-Panza, who was elected by a transitional assembly last week, told French radio RTL.
Tit-for-tat violence in the country continued unabated. A day after reports at least 13 were killed, local Red Cross officials in Bangui said 11 people were killed during the violence on Tuesday and 26 others were wounded.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is due to report to the Security Council late next month on options for a likely U.N. force within six months. But some western diplomats and U.N. officials have said the African Union wanted its force to be given a year to try and stop the fighting.
French U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters that a U.N. peacekeeping operation was needed, but that “we have to discuss it with the African Union and we won’t have a U.N. force without ... the support of the African Union.”
“The ceiling of 6,000 soldiers of the African Union is considered now too low because frankly the situation is very, very dire and the country is huge. So the (U.N.) secretariat is thinking at least 10,000 soldiers are necessary,” Araud said.
“It’s really quite a challenge because there is an incredible amount of resentment and hatred between the two communities,” he said.
Araud also said transforming the African force into a U.N. operation would bring guaranteed funding and an experienced civilian component to help rebuild Central African Republic’s state institutions, which have basically disintegrated.
Ban told the Security Council in November that a U.N. force of up to 9,000 troops and 1,700 police could be needed for Central African Republic, but that it could only be deployed if certain conditions were in place, like a political transition framework and for the transitional government to distinguish between forces who represent the state and those who do not.
Samba-Panza has pledged to open talks with armed groups and lead the Central African Republic up to elections, which are scheduled to be held by early next year.
Araud said the European troops would take over from French forces protecting some 100,000 displaced people who have sought refuge at the airport in the Central African Republic’s capital of Bangui. It was unclear which European countries would contribute troops or when they would arrive in the country.
“The European Union will protect these people and it will allow the French forces to deploy more strongly through the city of Bangui ... and beyond Bangui to the rest of the country,” Araud told reporters after the council meeting.
The U.N. Security Council authorized the African and French troops in early December, and also created a sanctions regime by imposing an arms embargo on Central African Republic that requires all countries to prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer of arms and related materiel.
On Tuesday, it added targeted sanctions - travel bans and asset freezes - to that sanctions regime. A Security Council committee will now be able to blacklist anyone who violates the arms embargo as well as human rights abusers and those who support armed groups by exploiting natural resources, among other things.
Central African Republic is rich in gold, diamonds and uranium, but decades of instability and the spillover from conflicts in its larger neighbors have left the country mired in cycles of crisis.
Additional reporting by Emmanuel Braun in Bangui and John Irish in Paris, editing by G Crosse