UNITED NATIONS - The United Nations Security Council unanimously agreed Thursday to authorize a nearly 12,000 strong U.N. peacekeeping force for the violence-plagued Central African Republic.
The force, which will be known by the acronym MINUSCA, will take over on September 15 from the 6,000-strong African-led mission currently on the ground. It will have 10,000 soldiers and 1,800 police.
The Africans and about 2,000 French forces have been trying to restore calm in the Central African Republic after inter-communal fighting erupted in December, with mainly Christian anti-Balaka militias attacking Muslim Seleka rebels in Bangui. Seleka forces overthrew the government just over a year ago.
International forces are trying to end reprisal attacks and restore law and order to halt a growing humanitarian crisis that has displaced more than 800,000 people and left more than half the country’s 4.6 million population in urgent need of aid.
C.A.R's Foreign Minister Toussaint Kongo Doudou welcomed the creation of the new force saying the hopes of an entire nation ride on it.
"Today the adoption of this resolution authorizing the deployment of MINUSCA is the start of a decisive phase in the process of restoring peace and security, and hence, stabilizing the Central African Republic," he said in French.
The minister said his country's transitional authorities are committed to national reconciliation, combating impunity and holding national elections no later than February 2015.
French Ambassador Gérard Araud told reporters that although the African and French forces have been working hard on the ground, the security situation remains volatile, and the authorization of MINUSCA will be a turning point.
"Their mandate under Chapter 7 [of the U.N. Charter] will focus on protection of civilians, restoration of law and order, support to humanitarian access, monitoring of human rights and fight impunity.," Araud said.
The African troops will continue their military activities in the lead-up to the official transfer date in September. After being vetted, many of those troops will also be "re-hatted" with the blue helmet of U.N. peacekeepers and join the new mission.
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power, who visited C.A.R. this week, told reporters the violence the country has witnessed has brought it "to the edge of disaster".
"Untold horrors continue in small villages throughout the countryside, and more than 19,000 Muslims are trapped in the capital, too afraid of anti-Balaka forces to leave their hiding places," she said.
Power said the United States would continue its assistance to the country. Washington has committed up to $100 million to support restoring security and an additional $67 million for humanitarian needs since January.