Francois Hollande, the French president, has said that his country's presence in the Central African Republic was "not out of any self-interest" and that the intervention was dangerous but "necessary" to avoid a bloody civil war.
Accompanied by Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, Hollande, arrived in the violence-hit country on Tuesday to visit recently deployed French soldiers in the country.
His visit came shortly after two French soldiers were killed while carrying out operations against militias in the capital Bangui, where sectarian violence between Muslims and Christians has been on the rise in the wake of clashes between rival militias.
The French campaign to pacify its former colony is "necessary if one wants to avoid carnage here", Hollande told troops assembled in a tent. "It was time to act. It was soon going to be too late."
He also said that the clashes were "taking on a religious dimension with the risk of leading to a civil war".
"For weeks, massacres were conducted and horrendous violence was done to women and children," he said.
"France is not here in the CAR out of any self-interest. France has come to defend human dignity."
Paris has deployed around 1,600 troops in the country to try to restore security and has begun disarming dozens of militias that have been destabilising much of the country.
The White House said the US administration had asked the State Department to spend up to $60 million for defence supplies to assist the African Union-led international support mission in the CAR.
More than 500 people have been killed over the past week in sectarian fighting, aid officials said Tuesday.
Aid workers have collected 461 bodies across Bangui since Thursday, said Antoine Mbao Bogo of the local Red Cross. But that latest figure does not include the scores of Muslim victims whose bodies were brought to mosques for burial.
Al Jazeera’s Nazanine Moshiri, reporting from a church in Bangui on Wednesday, said that hordes of people running from violence were seeking refuge in similar places. She also says United Nations organisations such as the World Food Programme and UNICEF were distributing food, hygiene kits and other sorts of aid in such places, which are filled with people seeking shelter.
"Muslims and Christians lived in this country peacefully for hundreds of years. What is happening is tearing apart communities," she says.
"What everyone here is saying that they need protection. If they do not get it, they will take the matter in their own hands. And that is the biggest fear here: people starting to take arms."
The fighting in the former French colony is between the mainly Muslim Seleka ex-rebels - originally from neighbouring Chad and Sudan - and the Christian anti-Balaka whose name means "anti-machete", the weapon of choice for Seleka.
The Christian fighters oppose the Selekas, who have been in charge of the CAR since a coup in March.
Michel Djotodia, the Seleka rebel leader-turned interim president, has largely lost control of his loose band of Seleka fighters.
The Seleka's have officially been disbanded, but the former members of the group continue to control their areas, and often refuse to obey Djotodia's central authority.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies