France said Tuesday it would send hundreds of extra troops to the strife-torn Central African Republic after the UN warned the country was descending into “complete chaos”.
Calls were growing for an international reaction to the violence in CAR amid warnings that the mineral-rich but desperately poor nation was facing a “catastrophe of epic proportions.”
Reports have described a litany of horrors in the landlocked, sprawling country, with security forces and militia gangs razing villages, carrying out public execution-style killings and perpetrating widespread rapes.
France has proposed a UN Security Council resolution that would authorise international troops to use force in its former colony and on Tuesday Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Paris would deploy about 1,000 troops to assist a beleaguered African mission.
Le Drian told Europe 1 radio the deployment would be “for a short period, in the range of about six months”.
CAR Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye said Monday that France had talked of adding 800 troops to the 410 French soldiers already based in the capital, Bangui.
Lying in the heart of Africa, CAR has struggled with a series of coups and rebel uprisings since independence in 1960.
The latest crisis began when a coalition of rebels known as Seleka forced president Francois Bozize to flee in March and replaced him with a rebel leader, Michel Djotodia — the country’s first Muslim president.
A transitional government has since lost control of the country of some 4.5 million people.
Risk of regional ‘implosion’
In some parts of CAR, fighting has broken out between mainly Muslim former rebels and militia groups set up to protect Christian communities, which make up about 80 percent of the population.
Western officials and rights groups have said inter-religious tensions are on the rise, with some in France, the United Nations and the United States warning of the risk of possible genocide.
The UN estimates that at least 400,000 people, or 10 percent of the population, have been forced from their homes by the crisis.
Jean-Marie Fardeau, director of Human Rights Watch France, told Agence France-Presse that “one can speak of a “criminal strategy” among the armed groups, but “there’s no coordination, nor planning among them.”
He said “the term ‘genocide’ is not apt.”
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Tuesday that the violence could spread to neighbouring countries.
“It is not called Central Africa for nothing… if the centre of Africa implodes, you will see the consequences,” Fabius said.
France, which intervened earlier this year in another former colony Mali, has circulated a draft Security Council resolution which could be passed by the 15-member council next week.
The resolution aims to strengthen an African stabilisation force in CAR as a first step toward turning it into a formal UN peacekeeping mission.
The force, known as MISCA, currently has about 2,500 troops but has been hampered by a lack of funds, arms and training.
The force’s numbers should increase to about 3,600 when it is taken over by the African Union in December.
The Security Council resolution would allow African and French troops to use “all necessary measures” including force to protect civilians in CAR and impose an embargo on all types of arms and ammunition.
Fabius told lawmakers Paris was in consultations with other European nations about joining the effort.
“The more European support there is, in military and logistical form… the greater will be our capacity to act,” he said.
UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson called for the Security Council to act quickly on the crisis.
“A country in the heart of Africa is descending into complete chaos before our eyes,” Eliasson told the council on Monday. “The situation requires prompt and decisive action.”
Rights group Amnesty International has also urged the UN to tackle the “human catastrophe of epic proportions unfolding in the Central African Republic”.
Experts said securing Bangui would be a relatively easy task but that foreign forces would face a tough, and potentially long, fight to pacify the country.
“If this is about restoring security to all of CAR, we’re talking about a long-term operation that would require large amounts of forces, logistical support and an enormous amount of time,” retired French general Jean-Paul Thonier said.