BANGUI – France has said other European nations would send troops to the Central African Republic to prop up a military force on the ground attempting to disarm warring militias.
Paris had urged its European partners to pitch in and help its 1,600 troops in the country who are battling to restore security after two weeks of fighting largely between Christians and Muslims.
The explosion of sectarian violence, after months of crisis sparked by a March coup, has forced 210,000 people from their homes in the capital alone, according to the U.N.
“We will soon have troops on the ground provided by our European colleagues,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in Paris on Tuesday, without naming the countries.
He has previously said Poland, Britain, Germany, Spain and Belgium were already helping with logistics.
A Belgian military source said on condition of anonymity that the government was also considering the dispatch of some 150 troops for “a protection mission,” possibly to secure airports.
The Spanish government, meanwhile, has backed plans to send a Hercules military transport aircraft with a “maintenance and support unit” of up to 60 personnel, subject to parliamentary approval. But it is not likely to include combat troops.
It’s still unclear whether other countries will also be assisting France on the ground.
Washington has also shown support, and will this week complete an airlift of some 850 Burundians into the country to form part of an eventual 6,000-strong African Union force known as MISCA.
The U.S. has pledged some $100 million in funding to MISCA.
“We’re deeply concerned by the horrific violence across Central African Republic, particularly the increasingly sectarian nature of the attacks on civilians,” said State Department Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
She told lawmakers she was planning to visit the country soon with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power.
Central Africa spiraled into chaos after a March coup in which the mainly Muslim Seleka rebel group overthrew President Francois Bozize.
Rebel leader Michel Djotodia was installed as president and disbanded Seleka, however many of the rebels went rogue, spreading terror that government forces could not stop.
Months of massacres, rapes and looting followed, with locals forming Christian vigilante groups in response.
As violence spiked in the capital, France deployed troops to its former colony on Dec. 5 under a U.N. mandate to support a struggling African peacekeeping force.
Some 600 people had been killed in the last figures given by the U.N. five days ago, warning the number was expected to rise.
Two elite French soldiers have also died in the fighting.
In Bangui, French soldiers Tuesday launched an offensive on a northern district, Boy-Rabe, known as a stronghold of Christian militia who oppose the Muslim former rebels, their leader said.
“It was an operation to make the district safe,” Gen. Francisco Soriano, who heads the French troops in CAR, told a news conference.
The French troops had so far focused on disarming the Seleka.
The CAR is a deeply poor, landlocked nation of 4.6 million — 80 percent of whom are Christian — with a history of coups, rebellions, army mutinies and civil unrest that has prevented the exploitation of its mineral wealth.
But the latest crisis is the first to take on a sectarian dimension that has roused international fears of mass slaughter.
Since the crisis began a year ago, more than 710,000 people have been displaced inside the CAR and over 75,000 have fled across its borders, according to the UNHCR.
Days before the French intervention, Christian militias loyal to ousted Bozize launched an attack in the outskirts of Bangui against Muslims and the clashes claimed about 300 lives, according to the Red Cross.
Neutralized and consigned to barracks, many former Seleka fighters have been enraged by what they see as one-sided disarmament, leaving them incapable of defending the Muslim community against the vengeance of Bangui’s mostly Christian population.