PARIS — France will triple the number of its soldiers in the Central African Republic to 1,200 to bolster security after months of violence, the war-torn nation's prime minister said on Monday.
The mineral-rich but impoverished nation of 4.6 million people has descended into chaos since Seleka rebels, many of them from neighbouring Chad and Sudan, ousted President Francois Bozize in March.
Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius had told him the reinforcements would arrive once the U.N. Security Council had voted on a resolution backing he force over the next week.
"We spoke about the security question. France has 410 soldiers now in Bangui and that will be strengthened by 800, to take the number to 1,200. More if needed,'' Tiangaye told Reuters after meeting Fabius in Paris.
The U.S. State Department estimates that nearly 400,000 people have been displaced and 68,000 have fled to neighbouring countries since Seleka leader and interim president Michel Djotodia lost control of his loose coalition of warlords.
The violence has increasingly pitted Seleka's mainly Muslim fighters against Christian militias. Christians make up half the population and Muslims 15 percent.
Tiangaye said the new troops would help secure the road from neighboring Cameroon to the riverside capital Bangui, allowing supply trucks into the landlocked country.
The deployment was expected to begin in December after the passing of a Security Council resolution authorising French-backed African troops to intervene, Tiangaye said.
"What is unacceptable is that the situation has become worse and there are multiple crimes against humanity in the country and my concern is to put an end to this as quickly as possible,'' he added.
Spinning out of control
Rights group Amnesty International warned on Monday that the Central African Republic crisis was spinning out of control.
"People are dying in the Central African Republic as we speak,'' said Amnesty Secretary General Salil Shetty in a statement.
The African Union plans to deploy a 3,600-member peacekeeping mission, known as MISCA, in the country.
A draft resolution to authorize the AU force could be circulated among the 15 members of the Security Council as early as this week, U.N. diplomats said, ahead of the planned adoption in early December.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon this month said he had also ordered officials to start preparing for the likely deployment of a larger U.N. peacekeeping mission.
The initial strength of the force should be 6,000 troops and 1,700 police, with an option of increasing the size to 9,000 troops if the situation worsened, Ban added.
U.N. Deputy-Secretary-General Jan Eliasson told the 15-member Security Council on Monday that the transfer of MISCA to a U.N. peacekeeping operation would take some time.
"We therefore urge the international community to now support MISCA in as comprehensive and predictable manner as possible, but to also begin considering the option of a United Nations peacekeeping operation,'' he said.
Eliasson said Central African Republic was becoming a breeding ground for extremists and armed groups.
"If this situation is left to fester, it may develop into a religious and ethnic conflict with longstanding consequences, even a civil war that could spread into neighboring countries,'' he added.