The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution Wednesday increasing the U.N. peacekeeping force in conflict-torn Central African Republic by 900 soldiers to a total of 11,650 military personnel.
The resolution comes at a time when the impoverished country, known as C.A.R., faces growing communal tensions, spreading violence and a deteriorating humanitarian situation.
France's U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre, who sponsored the resolution, said that with deteriorating security and increasing humanitarian needs, the Security Council "cannot afford to take the risk of allowing C.A.R. to relapse into a crisis as tragic as the one in which it was mired between early 2012 and early 2014."
Central African Republic has been wracked by violence between Muslims and Christians since predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels overthrew the Christian president in March 2013 and seized power.
Anti-Balaka militias, mostly Christians, fought back, resulting in thousands of deaths, the displacement of hundreds of thousands more, and the flight of many Muslims to the country's north and across the border into Chad and Cameroon.
Despite peaceful elections in early 2016, sectarian violence has moved into the impoverished country's central and southeastern regions, prompting warnings of a national conflict roaring back to life.
The Security Council resolution condemns "in the strongest terms incitement to ethnic and religious hatred and violence and the multiple violations of international humanitarian law and the widespread human rights violations and abuses."
These include sexual and gender-based violence committed by ex-Seleka and anti-Balaka supporters and other militia groups, as well as the targeting of civilians from specific communities, it said.
The council called the humanitarian situation "dire" and said more than 600,000 people displaced in C.A.R. and nearly 500,000 refugees in neighboring countries need aid.
It also emphasized that the current security situation "provides a conducive environment for transnational criminal activity, such as that involving arms trafficking and the use of mercenaries, as well as a potential breeding ground for radical networks."
The peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic, known as MINUSCA, is one of the U.N.'s most dangerous missions with 12 peacekeepers killed so far this year. MINUSCA also had the most sexual misconduct allegations against peacekeepers and U.N. personnel last year.
The resolution extends the mandate of MINUSCA until Nov. 15, 2018. It calls on peacekeepers to prioritize the protection of civilians, support efforts to promote peace, and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid.
It calls on Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to maximize MINUSCA's use of new rapidly deployable military units and to enhance its capabilities to gather "timely, reliable and actionable information on threats to civilians."
The council expressed "grave concern" at continuing allegations of abuse by peacekeepers in C.A.R., though it noted a reduction this year. It urged prompt and transparent investigations and called for alleged perpetrators to be held accountable.
The United States has been seeking to cut the costs of U.N. peacekeeping operations and there was concern that it might oppose adding 900 troops to MINUSCA, but the U.S. joined the 14 other council members in supporting the resolution.
U.S. deputy ambassador Michele Sison praised MINUSCA's work, including protecting thousands of Muslims trapped on the grounds of a church in Bangassou, and said the Trump administration believes the mission "is headed in the right direction."
The U.S. believes the additional troops will give MINUSCA "the necessary flexibility to address emerging threats and to fulfill its protection of civilians mandate," she said.
Sison said the United States is committed to supporting "focused, effective peacekeeping missions" that carry out their mandates and create conditions "to improve the lives of the people they have come to serve."