France has announced plans to increase its 1,600-strong military deployment in the Central African Republic by sending an additional 400 soldiers, as political and sectarian unrest continues to tear apart the African country.
Friday’s decision to boost French military presence in the former colony to 2,000 soldiers comes as thousands of Muslims, who tried to flee the sectarian violence in the capital of the former French colony, were turned back by peacekeepers.
Tens of thousands of Muslims have fled for their lives in the Central African Republic as Christian militiamen have stepped up their attacks in recent weeks.
French forces are working alongside nearly 6,000 African peacekeepers.
President Francois Hollande’s office also urged other countries to show “increased solidarity” and called on the United Nations Security Council to accelerate the deployment of peacekeeping troops in the country.
About a quarter of the population has been displaced by fighting and at least 2,000 people have been killed in the Central African Republic since the mostly Muslim Seleka rebel group seized power last March in the majority Christian country.
The fleeing Muslims, most of whom hoped to seek asylum in Chad, were surrounded by crowds of angry Christians shouting “we’re going to kill you all,” according to the Associated Press news agency.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said earlier this week that sectarian violence was continuing to worsen in the landlocked country and he was concerned it could spiral into genocide.
“The dark clouds of mass atrocities and sectarian cleansing loom over the Central African Republic. Public lynchings, mutilations and other horrendous acts of violence are spreading mayhem and fear,” Ki-moon said. “All Central Africans have been victims, Muslims and Christians alike.”
A top UN official warned on Wednesday of “ethnic-religious cleansing” as peacekeepers uncovered a mass grave at a military camp occupied by Seleka rebels in the capital Bangui.
Ban said he asked France to consider sending more troops since the international response to the crisis did “not yet match the gravity of the situation”.
He told the Security Council in November that a UN force of up to 9,000 troops and 1,700 police could be needed for the Central African Republic, but that it could only be deployed if certain conditions were in place.
The European Union has also agreed to send around 500 troops with the aim of creating a safe haven in part of the capital.