UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council authorized increased military action by France and African troops in the Central African Republican to try to end near-anarchy amid an upsurge in Muslim-Christian violence, killings, torture and rapes.
The council unanimously approved a French-sponsored resolution Thursday as a new wave of violence erupted in the landlocked country's capital, Bangui, killing about 100 people.
The resolution authorizes the deployment of an African Union-led force for a year with a mandate to use "appropriate measures" to protect civilians and restore security. The AU force, known as MISCA, is expected to increase its troop strength from about 2,500 to 3,500.
The resolution also authorizes French forces, for a temporary period, "to take all necessary measures" to support MISCA.
French President Francois Hollande said Thursday the 600 French troops now in the Central African Republic will be doubled "within a few days, even a few hours."
France's U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud told the council after the vote that "people have been terrorized by militia carrying out atrocities."
"On the security front, the country risks collapsing into chaos, with uncontrollable and unforeseen consequences for the whole region," he warned. "On the human front, the risk of mass atrocities is there."
"History demands us to avoid the worst," he said.
Whether the French and African forces can save lives largely depends on how far the foreign soldiers venture outside Bangui and into the lawless provinces, where mostly Muslim rebels have been attacking Christian villages. Christian militias, known as anti-balaka, recently have launched retaliatory attacks, forcing thousands of civilians to take refuge in churches and mosques.
Araud said the council's action is "going to make a difference ... in a really immediate future."
He said African and French forces are going to re-establish law and order in Bangui in the coming days, noting reports that some militia are already fleeing the capital because they hear the troops are coming.
Afterward, he said, the plan is to secure the roads to the main cities where tens of thousands of civilians have taken refuge, "to protect them but also to bring them humanitarian support."
Ambassador Tete Antonio, the AU's U.N. observer, told the council that Africa feels it now has "the confidence of the Security Council and an increased international legitimacy to continue and intensify our action." He said the AU will carry out the U.N. mandate "in an aggressive fashion."
The resolution asked Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to provide within three months recommendations for the possible transformation of MISCA into a U.N. peacekeeping operation. The council also asked Ban to rapidly establish an international commission to investigate allegations of rights abuses.
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power commended the robust effort by France and the AU.
"What matters right now to the civilians whose lives are hanging in the balance is actually not the color of the helmet of those tasked to protect them," she said. "What matters is whether the troops there move out aggressively to protect civilians and to restore security."
The U.S. recently announced $40 million in assistance to MISCA and Britain's Defense Ministry said Thursday that it is in discussions with France about providing "limited logistical support."
The resolution imposes an arms embargo on the Central African Republic for a year and orders all countries to ban the sale or transfer of arms, ammunition, military equipment, spare parts and technical assistance and training. It also expresses the council's intention to swiftly consider travel bans and asset freezes against individuals undermining peace.
Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. director for Human Rights Watch, called the resolution "a crucial step" but called for bolder measures, including the deployment of a well-equipped U.N. peacekeeping force.