The UN Security Council has unanimously approved the creation of a UN peacekeeping force in the Central African Republic to try to stop violence between Christians and Muslims that has threatened to spiral into genocide.
The force, authorised by the 15-member council on Thursday, will be known as MINUSCA and will be made up of up to 10,000 troops, 1,800 police and 20 corrections officers.
The UN operation will assume authority on September 15 from the African Union's 5,600-strong MISCA force, which was deployed in December.
The council wants the UN force to include "as many MISCA military and police personnel as possible", reported the Associated Press news agency.
The resolution also authorises French troops in the landlocked former French colony to use "all necessary means" to support UN peacekeepers.
Speaking to Al Jazeera from London, Amnesty Internationa's Christian Mukosa said " the big issue is how to fit the gap between now and September".
"This is why we think the UN must ensure that the African Union forces and the French forces are well equipped and have enough logistical support to protect civilians." he added,
Central African Republic has been in chaos since a March 2013 coup, when mostly Muslim rebels seized power and launched a brutal regime. Christian militiamen attacked rebel strongholds in early December.
As the rebel government crumbled in January, the Christian militiamen stepped up the violence, forcing tens of thousands of Muslims to flee.
France took the lead in mobilising international support to address the crisis but its ambassador, Gerard Araud, said the security situation remained volatile.
"African Union troops supported by the French troops are doing tremendous work to protect the civilian population but it's not yet enough,'' Araud said after the vote. "The resolution we have just adopted is a key turning point."
Toussaint Kongo-Doudou, Central African Republic's foreign minister, who urged the council last month to send UN peacekeepers, thanked members for adopting the resolution.
He said it "lays the foundation for a solution and a way out of the crisis".
The Security Council wanted a strong mandate and the resolution authorises the new UN force to protect civilians and support the disarmament of combatants and the restoration of peace and law and order.
It also authorises the mission to help investigate violations of human rights and humanitarian law by armed groups and arrest alleged perpetrators.
On Wednesday 55 soldiers from the European Unions Force (EUFOR) arrived in the capital Bangui with the aim of "maintaining security and training local officers".
With the establishment of MINUSCA, the African Union force on the ground will receive logistical support from the United Nations.
Philippe Bolopion, United Nations director for Human Rights Watch, urged the UN and member states to make the UN force a reality on the ground quickly, "including by providing carefully vetted troops, so the UN mission itself does not become embroiled in any allegations of abuses".
"This resolution doesn't mean that the U.N. cavalry is going to roll in and save the day," he warned.
On the streets of Bangui, there was a mixed reaction to the approval of a UN force, according to AP.
Cyrius Zemangui-Kette, 25, who is unemployed, said UN troops should have been sent in long ago, but the international community dragged its feet and now things have gotten worse.
"They say they'll arrive in September," he said.
"Until then, lots of Central Africans will continue to die, so who are they coming to save?", Youssouf Adam, 45, a Muslim trader, praised the UN deployment but said there were other ways to resolve the crisis.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies