September 20, 2017 / 12:25 AM / a month ago

Central African president pleads to U.N.: Don't forget us

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The president of the Central African Republic, Faustin-Archange Touadera, on Tuesday pleaded with the world to not forget his country and urged the U.N. to bolster its peace-keeping force amid growing violence that threatens to spin the country out of control.

President of the Central African Republic Faustin-Archange Touadera attends a meeting with Vatican State secretary, Italian cardinal Pietro Parolin (unseen) at the Vatican April 18, 2016. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

Thousands have died and a fifth of Central Africans have fled a conflict that broke out after mainly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted President Francois Bozize in 2013, provoking a backlash from Christian anti-balaka (anti-machete) militias.

Although unrest has since subsided, fighting has spiked this year and the United Nations warned this month that ethnic fighting could descend again into a much larger conflict if combatants are not disarmed.

“Central Africa is at a critical moment in its history. We need the support of our friends; there are risks that we’ll be forgotten,” Touadera told a news conference ahead of a high-level meeting at the U.N. General Assembly.

Violence has escalated since former colonial power France last year ended its peacekeeping mission in the country, which once had as many as 2,000 soldiers. France has grown concerned by events, although officials say Paris is unlikely to return to Central Africa unless the capital were under threat.

FILE PHOTO: United Nations peacekeeping force vehicles drive by houses destroyed by violence in September, in the abandoned village of Yade, Central African Republic April 27, 2017. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

The violence continues despite a peace deal signed between the government and rival factions in Rome last month and a 13,000-strong U.N. mission (MINUSCA), which will see its mandate renewed in November.

“The only force capable of ensuring security is the United Nations,” Touadera said. “The capacities of MINUSCA in terms of men and equipment have to be strengthened.”

National security forces are too weak to tackle a multitude of armed groups and counter the spillover from conflicts in neighboring countries. Diplomats have also said that Touadera does not have the political strength to impose central government rule.

Touadera bemoaned the departure of France’s Operation Sangaris, but also the withdrawal of about 2,000 American and Uganda forces that were fighting the Ugandan rebel group The Lord’s Resistance Army and the withdrawal of MINUSCA’s Congolese battalion in the west.

“All of this has created a vacuum that the MINUSCA must fill,” he said.

Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Leslie Adler

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