UN to speed up C.Africa peackeeping force after French plea

27th December 2013, Comments 0 comments

The United Nations said Friday it would speed up planning for a possible UN peacekeeping force in the strife-ridden Central African Republic, as French troops there sought to clamp down on violence.

The announcement was made in New York after French President Francois Hollande called on the world body to "play a still bigger role" in the troubled country, where heavy patrols of armoured vehicles and French soldiers could be seen in the capital.

More than 1,000 people are believed to have been killed in three weeks of sectarian violence in Bangui alone.

"Further consultations with members of the (UN) Security Council and with the African Union will be expeditiously undertaken in the coming days," said a UN statement after the call between UN chief Ban Ki-moon and Hollande.

Hollande had told the UN secretary-general that France was "aiming to protect the entire Central African population from attacks against it, without distinction," his Elysee office said in a statement.

He asked the United Nations to "play a still bigger role" in the CAR's transition to democracy and thanked Ban for UN moves to strengthen MISCA, the African force deployed to help restore calm in the Central African Republic.

The Red Cross said Thursday it had recovered some 100 bodies in Bangui, including 20 in a mass grave, amid increased attacks this week between Christians and Muslims.

French and African troops are struggling to contain the unrest, which has wracked the majority Christian country since a March coup by mostly Muslim Seleka rebels who installed Michel Djotodia as president.

Djotodia has officially disbanded Seleka, but has proved unable to control the fighters who swept him to power.

Automatic gunfire rattled central Bangui and tracer fire marked the sky overnight, and shots could be heard from the presidential palace and a nearby military camp.

Presidential spokesman Guy-Simplice Kodegue said the shooting was the result of a misunderstanding between Seleka fighters and troops from the African MISCA force.

A source with MISCA said two Congolese police officers had been killed in the shooting but provided no further details.

Two Chadian citizens were also wounded by stray gunfire at their nearby embassy, a diplomat said.

Confusion reigned in the capital, where heavy fighting sparked panic on Wednesday and sent thousands fleeing for shelter at the airport, the base for French and African forces.

At least one civilian was killed and several children wounded Friday when Chadian soldiers threw grenades into a crowd, military and humanitarian officials said.

A military source said the soldiers had been faced with angry demonstrators gathered along a road as they drove by with escaping Chadians.

Soldiers from mainly Muslim Chad have been accused of siding with the Seleka force and the African Union has said the Chadians will redeploy outside the capital to avoid tensions.

The accusations have been fanned by several incidents, including one on Monday when Burundian troops in the AU force said Chadian soldiers opened fire on them as they were disarming former rebels.

The same day, Chadian peacekeepers fired on a stone-throwing crowd of mostly Christian protesters, killing one man and wounding around 40 more.

Archbishop's appeal

Much of the unrest has been blamed on Christian militias carrying out revenge attacks on Muslims after months of abuses by ex-Seleka rebels.

A combined force of 1,600 French troops and 4,000 African Union soldiers is trying to restore order in the chronically unstable country after receiving a UN mandate in early December.

The violence is estimated to have forced more than 700,000 people from their homes across the country -- including more than 200,000 in Bangui alone.

The country's top Muslim and Catholic clerics have jointly called for extra peacekeepers to be deployed, while US Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington was "alarmed" by the rise in fighting.

Bangui Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga warned against "barbarism and killings that force people onto the roads.

"We believe that it is time, even urgent that the UN deal with the Central African Republic," he told private RTL radio, adding that UN forces should be deployed to help the French army on the ground.

He also criticised "politicians for playing with (people's) religious sentiment" and asked Christians to "reach out to others and trust the legal system" rather than take the law into their own hands.

Humanitarian groups meanwhile said they needed $152 million to help save lives and ensure the protection of 1.2 million people in the country during the next three months.

© 2013 AFP

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