BANGUI— An African-led peacekeeping force in the Central Africa is due for a boost in numbers, as the international community weighs a response to the ongoing security crisis in the country.
African soldiers on the ground in the Central African Republic are one of the last lines of defense against total chaos.
The security situation here has rapidly deteriorated as the Seleka rebel movement that seized power in March has struggled to keep control over its soldiers.
There are about 2,000 peacekeepers in the region as part of the Multinational Force of Central Africa (FOMAC), but the number of troops is expected to grow to more than 3,500 as part of a transition to a new force supported by the United Nations.
“For the time being, it’s very difficult for this country to have institutional forces that can be dedicated to ensuring the security of the population," said U.N. Special Representative Babacar Daye. "It’s why we are putting a lot of expectations on this African force.”
In August, Seleka forces raided the Boy Rabe neighborhood of the capital, looking for armed groups loyal to the former president. Relief workers say 10 people were killed during the operations here and in other parts of the city.
It's been calmer in recent days, but people are still on edge.
George Fakida runs this knife workshop in the neighborhood. He says Seleka soldiers went door to door, forcing residents to hand over money, telephones and other valuables.
“We need a big force to come here because we are suffering a lot under Seleka," he said, explaining that he's ready for the international community to step in.
But peacekeepers say the neighborhood has long been a bastion for armed groups, and security has always been an issue.
Seleka’s leaders say they are determined to prevent those elements from re-emerging.
“The arms are there. They have been disseminated among the civilian population, and it presents a security challenge," said Guy Simplice Kodegue, Seleka's spokesman. "So we must take action to recover these weapons."
The Seleka government says it will continue the disarmament campaign around the country as the international community works on how to get more boots on the ground.