By KRISTA LARSON and EDITH M. LEDERER, Associated Press
BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Thursday for the rapid deployment of at least 3,000 additional troops and police to conflict-wracked Central African Republic to prevent further religious killings that have forced almost one million people to flee their homes and are partitioning the country into Muslim and Christian areas.
That would bring the international forces in the country to more than 11,000.
Ban's call followed an appeal for more troops by U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos at the end of a three-day visit to the country earlier Thursday.
She told reporters she and her colleagues "were shocked by what we saw" in the remote town of Bossangoa, which has been at the epicenter of the fighting between the country's Muslim minority and the nation's Christian majority. She said tensions between communities are high and people fear for their lives.
Ban paid tribute to the nearly 6,000 African Union peacekeepers and 1,600 French troops in the country, but told the U.N. Security Council that the requirements to restore security to the lawless country "far exceed" their capabilities and the 500 troops promised by the European Union.
The secretary-general said he will soon be recommending a U.N. peacekeeping operation with "a robust mandate" to take over peacekeeping duties in the country. But the U.N. deployment will take months and "the people of Central African Republic don't have months to wait," he said.
Ban therefore called for reinforcement of the AU and French troops with additional deployments of at least 3,000 more troops and police "in the coming days and weeks," equipped with aircraft to operate wherever required.
He said French President Francois Hollande has pledged an additional 400 troops, the EU has said it will double its contingent to 1,000, and the AU will propose an expansion of its force.
But Ban said more troops and police are needed urgently "and the wider international community must share the burden." U.N. officials say they are privately hoping that European countries will provide even more troops and police.
The secretary-general called for "a coordinated command" for the AU, French and EU contingents that would focus on containing the violence, protecting civilians, providing security to deliver humanitarian aid to over 2.5 million people — more than half the 4.6 million population — and prepare for the handover to a U.N. peacekeeping force "as soon as possible."
He also urged that African troops joining the force be provided with logistical and financial support, estimating this would cost $38 million for six months.
Central African Republic, long one of the world's poorest and most unstable countries, plunged deeper into chaos nearly a year ago when the Muslim rebels from the north invaded the capital and overthrew the president of a decade. The rebels pillaged neighborhoods, raping and killing people with impunity for months, giving rise to the Christian militia. Those fighters attempted a coup in early December, and violence between the two communities exploded in the days that followed.
The president installed by the Muslim rebels has since gone into exile, and a nascent civilian government is attempting to restore order.
The U.N. chief painted a grim picture of the country, saying "it is a calamity with a strong claim on the conscience of humankind."
"Innocent civilians are being killed in large numbers," Ban said. "They are being killed purposefully, targeted for their religious beliefs, for their community affiliation — for who they are."
Muslims have been especially targeted, he said, but former Seleka rebels, who overthrew the government in March 2013, ushering in months of violence against the Christian majority, continue to attack Christians as well.