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UN chief: End Central African Republic killings

November 18, 2013

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the U.N. Security Council on Monday to immediately back military action to protect civilians in Central African Republic before the growing ethnic and religious strife leads to widespread atrocities.

He called on the council to authorize international support to an existing African Union-led peace operation and to permit emergency intervention from U.N. forces elsewhere in Africa “should there be a precipitous deterioration in the situation.”

Ban said in a report to the council obtained by The Associated Press that he backed the eventual transformation of the African Union force into a U.N. peacekeeping force with 6,000 troops and 1,700 police officers.

But he said another 3,000 U.N. soldiers would be needed if the crisis degenerates.

One of the world’s poorest countries with a long history of chaos and coups, Central African Republic has been in turmoil since a coalition of rebel groups joined forces to overthrow the president in March and put their leader in charge.

Since seizing power, Seleka rebels have plunged the country into a state of near-anarchy. They have been accused by human rights groups of committing scores of atrocities, of widespread looting, killings, rapes and conscription of child soldiers.

Ban said escalating attacks by former Seleka combatants, who are mostly Muslim, and retaliation by traditional militia groups known as anti-Balaka, who are mainly Christian, are fueling a conflict that was neither religious nor ethnic when it started. About half of Central African Republic’s 4.6 million people are Christian, and 15 percent Muslim, with the others following indigenous religions.

“This cycle, if not addressed now, threatens to degenerate into a country-wide religious and ethnic divide, with the potential to spiral into an uncontrollable situation, including atrocity crimes, with serious national and regional implications,” Ban warned.

In October, the Security Council unanimously backed the new African Union peacekeeping force and called for free and fair elections within 18 months.

So far, the African Union force has about 2,590 personnel in Central African Republic, the majority in the capital, Bangui.

Ban said an African Union force “will still have maximum capability levels that will differ from those of a United Nations peacekeeping operation of similar size” because U.N. peacekeepers are better trained and better equipped with artillery, armored vehicles, and attack helicopters.

Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. director for Human Rights Watch, who is just back from Central African Republic, told the AP, “The report is very alarming, and yet very lucid when it comes to assessing the potential for widespread atrocities.”

“If you read between the lines, it’s clear that African peacekeepers are not the solution to the challenges facing the country. Only a U.N. peacekeeping mission would have a shot at preventing the worst,” he said.

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Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report from the United Nations.

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