C.Africa wracked by violence as UN set to authorise force

AFP , Thursday 5 Dec 2013

Charles-Armel Doubane, the Permanent Representative of the Central African Republic to the UN, right, addresses the United Nations Security Council at U.N. Headquarters, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013 (Photo: AP)

Violent clashes left at least ten dead in the capital of the Central African Republic Thursday, hours before a UN vote on French-backed military intervention in a country feared to be on the verge of collapse.

The overnight violence in Bangui forced France to deploy 250 of the 600 troops it already has in its former colony to the city centre, and transitional president Michel Djotodia declared an all-night curfew.

A spokesman for the Doctors without Borders (MSF) charity said one hospital in Bangui had reported ten dead and 65 people suffering bullet or machete injuries as a result of the overnight clashes.

With the death toll expected to rise, the country's Prime Minister, Nicolas Tiangaye, urged France to start moving extra troops in as soon as the UN Security Council issues a green light.

The Council was due to vote later Thursday on a resolution authorising thousands of African and French troops to restore order to a country where mass killings have triggered fears of genocide.

"Given the urgency, my desire is that the intervention happens as soon as possible, immediately after the resolution", Tiangaye -- who is in Paris for a Franco-African summit that kicks off Friday -- told AFP in an interview.

A further 600 French troops are expected to come in over the weekend to back up a 2,500-strong African MISCA force already on the ground.

The CAR has plunged into chaos after the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted the president in a coup in March, with Muslim and Christian groups fighting each other and tens of thousands of terrified people taking refuge in churches and mosques, fearing sectarian attacks.

Reports have described a litany of horrors, with security forces and militia gangs razing villages, carrying out public execution-style killings and perpetrating widespread rapes.

In a radio-television broadcast, President Michel Djotodia told scared residents to "keep calm" and extended a curfew in the capital by four hours, from 6:00 pm (1700 GMT) to 6:00 am, compared to 10 pm previously.

The UN resolution, which envoys say is certain to be passed unanimously, also orders an arms embargo against the huge, impoverished nation.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said France would deploy the new troops after Thursday's vote, as soon as President Francois Hollande gave the order.

It will be France's second military operation in Africa this year, after Hollande sent more than 4,000 troops to oust Islamist rebels in control of northern Mali in January.

Tiangaye said international forces would likely be able to quickly secure Bangui but emphasised that troops had to go to other parts of the country where massacres are being committed without any witnesses.



The draft resolution highlights the "total breakdown in law and order" in the state which, it adds, risks "degenerating into a countrywide religious and ethnic divide, with the potential to spiral into an uncontrollable situation."

The council will give the French-backed African force a 12-month mandate and the right to use "all necessary measures" to restore order. The African troop contingent is scheduled to rise to 3,600.

United Nations leader Ban Ki-moon has warned that up to 9,000 troops could be needed if the crisis blows up and a full UN force has to take over.

Tiangaye said the number of troops due to be authorised by the United Nations would be "insufficient given our needs for security."

"Everything must be done for the country to return to calm, humanitarian aid is needed to help distressed people and we need economic and financial backing to support the government in order to manage the transition period," he added.

Violence has spread through the country of 4.6 million since President Francois Bozize's overthrow.

A top rebel chief, Djotodia took over as president following the coup, becoming the first Muslim leader of the majority Christian country that has for decades been prone to coups, rebellions and mutinies.

Djotodia formally disbanded the Seleka but ex-rebels continued to wreak havoc. Locals responded by forming vigilante groups and the government quickly lost control of the landlocked country.

Senior UN, US and French officials have warned that if left unchecked the unrest risked degenerating into genocide in a country where the Christian and Muslim communities have generally co-habited peacefully through the nation's various upheavals.

The massacre of 12 Muslim women, children and men this week by suspected Christian vigilantes highlights the need for "urgent" action, French UN envoy Gerard Araud said.

The Security Council will give MISCA a mandate for the "stabilisation of the country and the restoration of state authority over the whole territory of the country."

But it also calls on Ban to recommend within three months whether a full UN peacekeeping mission should step in.

France has led calls for a UN force but the United States and other Security Council members are more cautious.

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