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C. African Republic 'tinderbox'

October 30, 2013

The UN has agreed to send a 250-strong military unit to the Central African Republic to protect UN staff. The UN's top humanitarian official has also said the civilian population experiences immense suffering.

Young people patrol with rifles near a house destroyed by fire on October 11, 2013 in Bogangolo (171 km from Bangui). The Central African Republic, one of the poorest countries on the planet with a long history of instability, has descended into anarchy since rebels overthrew president Francoise Bozize in March 2013. Violence has surged between ex-rebels of the Seleka coalition that led the coup -- who are Muslim -- and local vigilante groups formed by Christian residents in rural areas. AFP PHOTO / PACOME PABANDJI (Photo credit should read PACOME PABANDJI/AFP/Getty Images)

The UN Security Council decided to send 250 troops to the capital of the Central African Republic, late Tuesday, to guard the UN's political mission in Bangui. The council is to discuss the plight of civilians again on Friday.

The council's decision, backing a proposal from UN chief Ban Ki-moon, implements rarely used UN orders to protect UN workers and premises. A similar force was sent to protect staff in Iraq in 2003 after a US-led invasion.

Atrocities 'indescribable'

UN humanitarian office coordinator John Ging, fresh from a three-day visit, said "atrocities that are being committed against the civilian population are indescribable."

Since March, when northern Seleka rebels seized Bangui and ousted President Francois Bozize, the impoverished but mineral-rich, multiethnic nation of 4.6 million had become a "tinderbox," Ging told a press conference at UN headquarters.

Half of the population needed assistance, including food, water and sanitation, he said. Tens of thousands of people had sought shelter in churches, mosques and community centers.

"This country needs to come into the international spotlight, the scale of suffering is among the worst in the world," Ging said.

He added that incitement in the name of religion had instilled "incredible fear" among communities.

"It's a tinderbox that can ignite into something very, very big and very, very bad," he said, referring to reports of mutilations, rapes, torture and conscription of child soldiers.

The Seleka rebel coalition, which claims to fight on behalf of the country's Muslim population, was officially disbanded by its former leader Michel Djotodia in mid-September.

He was sworn in as president in August.

Rebel coalition fighters, however, refused to disarm. Residents in some townships attacked by ex-Seleka fighters have formed vigilante groups.

New AU force awaited

On October 10, the Security Council backed a new African Union (AU) peacekeeping force – known as MISCA - and demanded a transition leading to free and fair elections within 18 months.

So far, the AU has about 1,100 troops in the Central African Republic. MISCA is not likely to be operational before 2014.

France has a small force in Bangui to secure its airport and local interests. South Africa, which had troops deployed in Bangui, lost 13 troops during the coup in March.

Last week, EU leaders said the AU force needed "urgent operational implementation."

The UN children's fund UNICEFsaid earlier this month that at least 70 per cent of schoolchildren were not attending class in the Central African Republic.

About 65 per cent of schools surveyed by the UN had been looted, occupied or damaged.

The Central African Republic is rich in gold, diamonds and uranium and has endued decades of instability from the spillover of conflicts from Congo and Sudan.

ipj/mz (AP, Reuters, AFP)