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UN Seeks Funds for African Force in Central African Republic

French peacekeeping soldiers advance in armored vehicles in Miskine district, a neighborhood that in the past few days experienced violent sectarian clashes, in the capital Bangui, Central African Republic, Jan. 30, 2014.
The United Nations is asking donors for more money to fund African Union peacekeepers trying end inter-communal violence in the Central African Republic, a U.N. official said on Friday.

Almost a million people, a quarter of the population, have been displaced by fighting since the mostly Muslim Seleka rebel group seized power in March in the majority Christian country. At least 2,000 people are estimated to have been killed.

“It is a critical situation, we have seen massive violations of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law,” U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson told Reuters, speaking on the sidelines of an African Union summit.

The United Nations has warned the conflict in the landlocked former French colony risks spiraling into genocide.

Eliasson said the priority was to support the African force, known as MISCA, adding that a trust fund set up to finance it had “only slightly over $5 million”. He said he had no set target for a meeting of donors in Addis Ababa on Saturday.

MISCA has more than 5,000 soldiers in the Central African Republic, where a 1,600-strong French force is also deployed.

The European Union, which has promised to send 500 soldiers, said on Friday it was ready to put 25 million euros ($34 million) into the MISCA fund and provide another 20 million euros for the country's electoral process.

EU development commissioner Andris Piebalgs said the extra money would bring total EU commitments to the Central African Republic since the crisis began to about 200 million euros.

'Tough sell'

MISCA aims to raise the number of troops deployed by March to about 6,000, an African official said, the current ceiling for the force, although France has said more are needed.

Eliasson said the number of peacekeepers needed would depend on political progress, helped on this month when a transitional assembly elected interim President Catherine Samba-Panza.

“This situation cannot be solved only by a military or peacekeeping operation,” Eliasson said.

He said fund-raising was hard given a host of demands on donors, including the latest $6 billion U.N. appeal for Syria.

African Union director of peace and security El Ghassim Wane said MISCA had 5,300 troops on the ground and expected 700 from the Democratic Republic of Congo for a total of 6,000. Rwanda, Burundi, Chad, Cameroon and others have already sent troops.

“I can assure you that by the end of the program in March we will have all troops on the ground,” Wane told Reuters.

France has called for a U.N. peacekeeping force. Its U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud said transforming the African Union force into a U.N. operation would bring guaranteed funding.

The World Food Program, a U.N. agency which has provided food aid to 220,000 people displaced by the crisis since the start of the year, also appealed for more money on Friday.

“WFP urgently needs $95 million to immediately distribute life-saving food assistance and to pre-position food stocks before the rains start in April and roads become impassable,” it said in a statement.

($1 = 0.7373 euros)