UN's Ban to France: Mull more troops for Central African Republic

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Tuesday he has asked France to consider sending more troops to the Central African Republic because the international response to the crisis "does not yet match the gravity of the situation."

Ban said violence between Christians and Muslims continued to worsen and he was gravely concerned that the violence in the landlocked former French colony could spiral into a genocide.

Almost 1 million people, or a quarter of the population, have been displaced by fighting since the mostly Muslim Seleka rebel group seized power in March last year in the majority Christian country. At least 2,000 people have been killed.

"The sectarian brutality is changing the country's demography," Ban told reporters. "We must do more to prevent more atrocities, protect civilians, restore law and order, provide humanitarian assistance and hold the country together."

"The international response must be robust with a credible deployment of force ... It must be swift if we are to prevent the worst-case scenario," said Ban, who is due to report to the United Nations Security Council in March on options for transforming the current African Union peacekeeping force into a UN operation.

France sent 1,600 troops to the Central African Republic in December to assist some 5,000 African Union peacekeepers, while the European Union has also agreed to send around 500 troops.

Ban said the Central African Republic's interim President Catherine Samba-Panza had formally requested a UN operation, but he added that even if the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force appeared "increasingly necessary," it would take time.

"I call on the European Union to accelerate the deployment of its military operation," he said. "I spoke yesterday with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and asked France to consider deploying additional troops, I'm urging other willing member states to contribute as well."

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