France and the European Union have announced plans to reinforce international peacekeepers in the Central African Republic. Meanwhile, the United Nations has warned that ethnic violence could tear the country apart.
Paris announced on Friday that it would deploy an additional 400 troops to the Central African Republic (CAR), after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that violence in the country was escalating into ethnic cleansing.
"The dark clouds of mass atrocities and sectarian cleansing loom over the Central African Republic," Ban told a UN Security Council meeting on Friday.
"We cannot claim to care about mass atrocity crimes and then shrink from what it means to actually prevent them," he said. "Our commitment to protect civilians is only as meaningful as the political, military and financial muscle deployed to defend them."
The reinforcements will boost France's peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic to a total of 2,000 troops. Paris is supporting an African Union (AU) force of 6,000 peacekeepers.
"All of the enemies of peace will be fought," French President Francois Hollande's office said in a press release. "There will be no impunity for those who commit crimes."
EU plans larger peacekeeping force
Meanwhile, the European Union is also seeking to bolster its planned peacekeeping force for the Central African Republic. According to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, the 28-member bloc has mustered more than 500 troops for the mission so far, a number which it plans to double.
"I trust that the force will be on the ground very soon," Ashton told reporters after the Security Council meeting in New York on Friday.
Last month, the EU agreed to support the French and AU mission in the Central African Republic. But major European countries like Great Britain and Germany have refused to contribute ground troops.
'Catastrophe of unspeakable proportions'
The Central African Republic descended into violence after a Muslim rebel group, Seleka, installed Michel Djotodia as president in a coup last March.
Renegade members of Seleka subsequently went on a killing spree, provoking Christians to form self-defense militias. Djotodia, unable to stop the violence, resigned the presidency under pressure from neighboring countries last month.
The Christian militias have increasingly gained the upper hand, targeting the country's Muslim minority in revenge attacks. Approximately 80 percent of the country identifies as Christian, while 20 percent of the population identifies as Muslim.
According to the UN refugee agency, the Central African Republic faces a "humanitarian catastrophe of unspeakable proportions." An estimated 714,000 people have been displaced by the violence out of a total population of 4.5 million.
The UN children's fund (UNICEF) has reported that 133 children have been killed or maimed in the last two months. Some children have been beheaded and mutilated, UNICEF said.
"There is no future for a country where adults can viciously target innocent children with impunity," said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF's director for West and Central Africa.
slk/crh (AFP, dpa, Reuters)