NAIROBI — The humanitarian crisis in the Central African Republic continues to spiral out of control as sectarian fighting in the capital displaces thousands. Now the peacekeeping force on the ground is being strengthened by a group of newly-arrived soldiers from Burundi.
Tens of thousands of civilians are taking refuge at the airport in the capital, Bangui. An eyewitness at the scene says more continued to arrive Friday as they fled the sectarian violence afflicting the city.
Aid agencies say hundreds -- perhaps as many as 600 -- have been killed in fighting that started last week between Christian militias loyal to former president Francois Bozize and members of the mostly-Muslim Seleka movement that seized power in March.
World powers are scrambling to bolster the African-led peacekeeping operations in the country to restore order. France recently increased its troop presence to about 1,600 soldiers.
The United States has started airlifting Burundian soldiers into the country to join the peacekeeping mission.
Speaking to reporters in Nairobi Friday, the top U.S. diplomat to Africa, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said the U.S. will consider additional requests for airlift support but will not maintain a military presence in the country.
“I don’t think we’ll be leaving planes on the ground. If we do the lift, we will be flying back out. So, again, it’s not a permanent presence, she said."
Thomas-Greenfield said the U.S. has set aside about $40 million to support African Union peacekeeping operations, including training and equipping soldiers.
Meanwhile, the medical aid organization MSF (Doctors Without Borders) has criticized the “appalling performance” of United Nations humanitarian agencies.
In an open letter published Thursday, the aid group said the U.N. had failed to deliver much needed supplies including tents, food and soap to those displaced by the fighting.
The U.N. children's agency, UNICEF, says an airlift of 77 metric tons of supplies landed in Bangui Friday for distribution to children and families most in need.