The United Nations is seeking another 750 peacekeeping soldiers that would join efforts to stabilize a deteriorating security situation in the Central African Republic (CAR).
A "security vacuum" has been exacerbated by the withdrawal of US special forces from the southeast of the country earlier this year, according to Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, the head of the UN's peacekeeping in the CAR. US and Ugandan forces had been hunting rebels from the Lord's Resistance Army.
Hundreds of people have been killed in recent months and more than half a million have fled their homes as largely sectarian violence engulfs more of the country.
Fighting began in 2013 and peaked in 2014, but international observers warn that the rising violence is again approaching levels seen at the height of the conflict.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said this week that he wanted to "shine a spotlight on an under-reported emergency" in the CAR. There has been a 37-percent increase in the number of refugees and displaced people over the past three months.
The UN mission in the CAR admits that the 10,750 soldiers and 2,080 police are insufficient for country slightly smaller than France.
The LRA remains a concern
The additional troops would raise the number of peacekeepers to approximately 13,500.
"It's pretty clear that the mission, with its current capacity, is overstretched," said Human Rights Watch researcher Lewis Mudge. "They simply don't have the means to address the increased attacks on civilians."
The fighting is primarily between Muslim ex-Seleka rebels and majority Christian anti-Balaka fighters over resources and trade routes across the countryside.
About 70 percent of the country is in rebel hands, according to international human rights organizations.
The presence of the Lord's Resistance Army in the region remains a concern. When the US and Ugandan troops withdrew they claimed the LRA had largely been neutralized. But Joseph Kony, the rebels' notorious leader, remains on the most wanted list by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes.
The UN has reported a surge in kidnappings by the LRA since the US withdrawal.
In a cable Onanga-Anyanga sent requesting the additional forces he said, "new actors are emerging to fill the security vacuum (in the southeast), creating upheaval in a once relatively calm region."
The UN peacekeeping mission needs an "urgent increase in military capabilities given the deteriorating security situation and escalating violence against civilians, humanitarians and peacekeepers," said Evan Cinq-Mars, the UN advocate and policy adviser at the non-profit Center for Civilians in Conflict.
bik/kl (AP, AFP)