The United Nations has approved a deployment of combined African and French troops in the violence-ridden Central African Republic, months after a coup there plunged the country into chaos. The decision comes as renewed fighting in the capital, Bangui, has left about 100 people dead. The peacekeeping force is tasked with protecting civilians and restoring humanitarian access to embattled civilians.
On Friday, French defense chief Jean-Yves Le Drian told Radio France Internationale that troops had arrived and begun moving into the capital.
Former rebels controlling Bangui drove through the capital Thursday after the heaviest clashes there in months. The fighting has ushered in renewed chaos for many, including local resident Thierry Bondobo, who learned that one of his brothers had been killed but is still unsure of by whose hand.
"I arrived at Lakouanga, and my little brother, who is here, confirmed to me that our brother has been killed. His body is presently lying on the ground at Camp Kassai… They told us early on that it was the anti-Balaka, or maybe the Seleka [who killed him], but we don't really know which is true, we are trying to go collect his body, but they won't let us," said Bondobo. The anti-Balaka are a Christian militia, while the Seleka are a Muslim group and were behind the overthrow of President Fracois Bozize earlier this year.
A movement allied to former president Bozize has claimed responsibility for several attacks around the capital. The group is made up mostly of former rebels has been blamed for a surge in murders, rapes, robberies and auto thefts. Thursday's shooting left many Bangui residents in fear.
The U.N. Security Council Thursday approved a resolution that authorizes an arms embargo on the C.A.R. and deploys an African Union-led stabilization force of about 3,600 troops there. Soon after, French President Francois Hollande announced that his country will act without delay to double its commitment of troops to the African nation.
"Given the urgency, I have decided to act immediately; in other words: this evening, in coordination with the Africans and with the support of our European partners. Six-hundred soldiers are already on site; this number will be doubled in the next few days or even the next few hours. France doesn't have any other goal than to save human life,” said Hollande.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, called reports of brutality against civilians in the C.A.R. deeply disturbing.
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"It is clear that urgent action is required to save lives. These are the harrowing facts that this Security Council has deliberated in considering how best to move out in saving lives and how best to address the country's immediate needs as quickly as possible. Achieving these goals required a credible military force with a robust mandate to engage in peace enforcement activities. Today's resolution gives us that," said Powers.
The Central African Republic, a former French colony, has endured decades of instability since winning independence in 1960. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes in recent months during clashes between Muslim militants and Christian militias. International aid workers say their access is blocked to many civilians living in desperate conditions in forests far from their homes.