As the European Union moves forward with plans to deploy several thousand troops to the Central African Republic and neighboring Chad, rights group Human Rights Watch is calling for the force to focus on protecting civilians in CAR who it says are being attacked by rebels and government troops. Kari Barber has this report from VOA's West and Central Africa bureau in Dakar.
While most of the up to 4,000 EU troops to be deployed in the coming months will be operating in Chad, Human Rights Watch says the forces must also protect civilians in the Central African Republic.
The group says government troops in northern CAR have been terrorizing civilians over the past two years, killing hundreds and burning down villages in an anti-insurgency effort against rebel movements.
CAR officials have not responded to these accusations.
Olivier Bercault with the emergencies program at Human Rights Watch in Paris was in CAR investigating earlier this year. He says hundreds of thousands of refugees have been displaced, further destabilizing an already tumultuous region.
"The villages are located on main roads, so when you are going through these villages that have been attacked they are totally destroyed, burned down," he said. "The problem is that it triggers a big displacement of civilians while living in dire conditions."
Central African Republic borders Chad and Sudan, where the Darfur conflict has left hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced.
Bercault says the CAR government of President Francois Bozize needs to take control over its army before the country is plunged into a more serious conflict.
"We hope that the government will be able to bring those who committed abuses to court and to be able to reform the regular army of the country," he said.
Of the EU deployment, a few hundred troops are expected to be based in CAR. A large U.N. force is already operating in the Darfur region in efforts to prevent the fighting from spilling over into other areas.
Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies analyst Paul Simon Hendy says though CAR's conflict is exacerbated by the war in Darfur, it will be important for international forces to recognize the unrest has local roots.
"The whole international community should ensure that military troops sent there are not just dealing with part of the conflict," he explained. "This conflict has to be considered in its totality. That means in its transnational character, but also considering the national character of each crisis. Because if we just consider the conflict in CAR and in Chad as a spillover of the Darfur conflict, then we miss the point."
The United Nations has confirmed child soldiers are among the ranks of the rebel groups fighting in CAR, one of the poorest nations in the world. Rebels, who have not been clear about their demands, have been staging attacks in the north since 2006.