The EU has begun its military mission to the Central African Republic, where ethnic clashes have destabilized the country. The delayed deployment comes amid signs of increased violence against CAR’s Muslim population.
The European Union's 1,000-strong military mission began its assignment in the Central African Republic (CAR) on Tuesday. The start to the long-awaited deployment - which will provide support to French and African Union troops already on the ground - was delayed in recent weeks by difficulties securing troops and transport from the bloc's 28 member nations.
Tuesday marked the commencement of operations. In a statement, the EU said that it would send soldiers to the embattled African nation "rapidly, so as to have immediate effects," however it did not provide a timeline for their deployment.
The EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, emphasized that the six-month military operation signaled the bloc's "determination to take full part in international efforts to restore stability and security in [CAR's capital city] Bangui and…across the Central African Republic."
"It is vital that there is a return to public order as soon possible, so that the political transition process can be put back on track," Ashton said.
Germany has declined to provide troops to assist forces on the ground, but it has expressed interest in sending medevac planes and providing personnel to operation headquarters in the Greek city of Larissa .
The EU mission is to assist international forces already working in CAR, comprised of 6,000 African Union and 2,000 French troops.
UN: Muslims in danger
Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency called for the relocation of Muslims from the capital, Bangui, and other cities in CAR. According to its information, some 19,000 Muslims faced potentially deadly violence from Christian fighters, who have been increasing their attacks. The African Union peacekeeping mission has also been targeted in the assaults.
"Basically what we don't want is to stand by and watch people being slaughtered," UNHCR spokesperson Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba said on Tuesday. "The only thing keeping them from being killed right now is the presence of the French troops and [African Union forces]."
Ethnic clashes between Muslims and Christian groups have destabilized the Central African Republic. Roughly one year ago, fighting broke out when the predominantly Muslim Seleka rebel group overthrew the government in Bangui. The fighters then installed Michel Djotodia as the country's president. Violence died down only to flare several months later as Christian groups began forming what they described as self-defense militias against the Seleka fighters. The crisis prompted a French and African Union military intervention and, finally, President Djotodia's resignation in January.
The United Nations estimates that roughly one million people have fled their homes since late last year. Around 1.3 million people are in immediate need of food aid.
kms/lw (AFP, dpa)