Extra French troops to tackle C. Africa violence
More than 200 French troops begin Monday the hard task of boosting efforts to halt spiralling violence in the troubled Central African Republic as rebels withdrew from the capital Bangui.
The rebels' retreat came ahead of what is expected to be a key week for the landlocked country as its crisis tops the international diplomatic agenda.
The latest reinforcements, which arrived in the CAR on Sunday, took the number of French troops in Bangui to more than 600 men.
The move came amid efforts to improve security in the Central African Republic with a United Nations Security Council vote this week on a French-drafted resolution aimed at strengthening a flagging African stabilisation force on the ground.
That vote will be followed by a mini-summit on the CAR unrest in Paris on Saturday, to be attended some 40 African leaders, including Central African Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye, as well as UN chief Ban Ki-moon.
Within the next few days, Antonov 124 cargo planes will take more materiel necessary for the French contingent to the CAR, French military leaders said.
"If needed, the force can also protect French nationals," they added.
On Sunday, 500 troops also left neighbouring Republic of Congo to join the beleaguered African-led MISCA force in the CAR, which has around 2,500 soldiers in place but has failed to get off the ground due to a lack of funds and training.
Last week, France announced its intention to deploy some 1,000 troops to its former colony in a bid to stop a string of abuses allegedly carried out by militia gangs and ex-members of the mostly Muslim Seleka rebel coalition that toppled the CAR's leader in a March coup.
Since the French announcement, welcomed by transitional leader Michel Djotodia, rattled ex-Seleka rebels have been fleeing Bangui in their pick-up trucks under the cover of darkness.
Chasing troublemakers from the capital may not be too difficult for France, which has had support forces stationed in Bangui for more than a decade.
But defeating rebels who flee eastwards, to the forest-covered, virtually impenetrable regions bordering Chad, the Sudans and Democratic Republic of Congo may prove quite a task.
"The Seleka are leaving Bangui, but what will they do in the bush? Who will go and disarm them in the forest?" a diplomat asked, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The Paris summit will focus on how to put France's resolution -- which asks that international troops in the CAR be able to use force rather than maintain a purely peacekeeping role -- into action if passed.
The international community has repeatedly voiced its concern about the mineral-rich Central African Republic, where the aftermath of the coup has sparked violent chaos across the vast landlocked country.
Rights group Amnesty International is urging the United Nations to act quickly and authorise "a robust peacekeeping force" to quell the violence.
"The consequences of this (week's) life-and-death decision will affect an entire country," said Amnesty's secretary general Salil Shetty.
"If the Security Council does not act now to stem the horrific cycle of violence in the Central African Republic, that failure will hang heavily on the international community for years to come."
The charity said that a "full-fledged UN peacekeeping operation" may be necessary to rein in the security forces and armed groups, who it said were responsible for "spiralling human rights violations and abuses."
"The Security Council must request that the UN secretary-general immediately start preparations for the deployment of a robust peacekeeping force," added Shetty.
"Troops on the ground must have the resources necessary to stop the ongoing abuses and rein in armed groups and forces that have already spun out of control over the past year."
The CAR's ex-president Francois Bozize was toppled by the Seleka coalition and replaced with the Christian-majority country's first Muslim president, Djotodia, who then formally disbanded the rebels.
Reports from watchdogs such as Human Rights Watch have painted a grim picture of ex-Seleka members, security forces and militia gangs torturing and executing villagers and perpetrating widespread rape.
The clashes have also taken on a religious undertone, pitting Christians against Muslims and raising fears of sectarian massacres.
Lying in the heart of Africa, the impoverished Central African Republic has struggled with a series of coups and rebel uprisings since independence from France in 1960.
The UN estimates that the latest strife has forced 400,000 people, or 10 percent of the population, to leave their homes.
Analysts have warned that the conflict could engulf the country's neighbours.
© 2013 AFP