The United Nations Security Council on Tuesday unanimously authorized the deployment of a European Union force to the Central African Republic to bolster French and African troops combating sectarian violence that the United Nations has warned could escalate into genocide.
The council also approved financial sanctions against individuals who have committed human rights abuses, including rape and child soldier recruitment, and those who threaten peace and the political transition process.
French Ambassador Gerard Araud said the EU troops will be deployed to guard the airport in Bangui, where 100,000 people have taken refuge, mostly living on the tarmac. Araud said that will free up French troops to move beyond the airport and take up security operations in Bangui and beyond.
The EU mission will likely be composed of 500 to 600 troops. It remains unclear which countries will contribute. Thomas Mayr-Harting, the head of the EU delegation to the United Nations, said the EU forces would be on the ground in CAR within weeks but could not provide a specific timeframe.
“We are starting to stabilize the situation but it’s still very fragile,” Araud said. “We really need the arrival of the European forces.”
France has sent 1,600 troops to bolster about 4,600 overwhelmed African peacekeepers, but few have reached the hot spots farther north.
More than 1,000 people have been killed and nearly one million forced from their homes since December in violence pitting Christians and Muslims, militias and civilians.
The mostly Muslim rebels, known as Seleka, came from the country’s far north in March 2013 to overthrow the president. The situation has stabilized somewhat since rebel-turned-president Michel Djotodia surrendered power amid mounting international condemnation of his inability to stop sectarian bloodshed. A new interim civilian government has pledged to halt the violence and attempt to organize elections by February, 2015.
On Tuesday, thousands of jubilant residents took to the streets of Bangui to celebrate after peacekeepers escorted dozens more rebels from military bases in the latest sign the fighters are losing their grip on the country. But sectarian tensions remain high, and the UN has warned that the exodus of the Seleka has left Muslim civilians vulnerable to retaliatory attacks by Christian militiamen.
EU foreign ministers approved the deployment of a joint military force to CAR last week. The Security Council approved the mission for an initial mandate of six months and authorized it to use force.
Araud said he believes a UN peacekeeping mission must eventually be sent to the Central Africa Republic. He said the UN officials estimate that 10,000 troops are need to secure the vast country and he said only the United Nations can provide the expertise and resource to help rebuild the government.
“There is no state left in the Central African Republic and we will need a very strong civilian component to rebuild the state,” he said.
“It’s really quite a challenge because there is an incredible amount of resentment within the community and we are between a rock and a hard place,” Araud said.
The Security Council resolution also orders all member states to freeze all funds, financial assets and economic resources that are owned or controlled by individuals who are committing rights violations, undermining peace and stability and obstruct the delivery of humanitarian assistance. The sanctions will be in place for an initial period of a year.
Araud said France has a list of individuals who should be subjected to sanctions, but it must be submitted to the Security Council’s sanctions committee for approval.