European peace-keeping forces in the Central African Republic will increase sharply after first Paris and then Brussels announced on Friday that they would boost troops to the strife-torn country.
In the afternoon, France announced it would deploy 400 more soldiers and gendarmes, bringing its total forces in its former colony to 2,000.
The French decision followed a meeting of the national Defence Council at the Elysée Palace. French forces are working alongside nearly 6,000 African peacekeepers in an attempt to halt sectarian violence in CAR.
In the announcement, France had urged other countries to show "increased solidarity" and had called on the European Union to accelerate its deployment of a promised 500 peace-keepers in the country.
Later on Friday, the EU responded. Catherine Ashton, its head of Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said the EU would send around 1,000 troops to CAR to help restore order.
"We have more than 500 troops [already promised]," Ashton said, adding that the EU was "looking at double that number".
It was not clear whether that number included the extra French forces. Ashton has in recent weeks avoided specifying which countries would be contributing troops.
Major EU powers such as Britain and Germany have refused to commit soldiers, and diplomats say efforts are focusing on smaller countries.
Diplomatic sources said on Friday that besides France, five other EU countries had proposed a "substantial" contribution to the mission.
Poland could provide 140 soldiers while Estonia, Latvia, Romania and Portugal could each offer 30 to 50, the sources said.
Slipped into chaos
CAR slipped into chaos after the predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in March. After the coup, former Seleka members launched a campaign of killing, raping and looting. Christians, far more numerous than the Muslims, formed aggressive vigilante militias in response.
In recent weeks, tens of thousands of Muslims have fled as the Christian militiamen, the anti-balakas, have stepped up attacks.
On Friday morning thousands of Muslims attempting to flee escalating violence Bangui, the capital, were turned back by peacekeepers.
On Tuesday, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told France 24 that Muslim civilians were facing a “massive ethno-religious cleansing” and that the country faced “a humanitarian catastrophe”.
The French government said on Friday that the objectives of the operation, code-named Sangaris, were “to stop the massacres, to prevent war crimes and to restore order”.
It promised that “all enemies of peace will be fought. There will be no impunity for those who commit crimes”.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-02-14