UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday unanimously authorized the deployment of a European Union force to the Central African Republic to bolster French and African troops who are trying to quell sectarian violence that the United Nations has warned could escalate into genocide.
The council also approved financial sanctions against individuals who have committed human rights abuses, threaten peace and a political transition process and violate an arms embargo imposed earlier on the country.
French Ambassador Gerard Araud said the EU troops will be deployed to guard the airport in the capital, Bangui, where 100,000 people have taken refuge, mostly living on the tarmac. Araud said that will free up French troops to move beyond the airport and take up security operations in Bangui and beyond.
The EU mission likely will comprise 500 to 600 troops. It remains unclear which countries will contribute. Thomas Mayr-Harting, the head of the EU delegation to the United Nations, said the EU forces would be on the ground in CAR within weeks but could not provide a specific timeframe.
"We are starting to stabilize the situation, but it's still very fragile," Araud said. "We really need the arrival of the European forces."
France has sent 1,600 troops to bolster some 4,600 overwhelmed African peacekeepers, but few have reached the hot spots farther north.
More than 1,000 people have been killed and nearly 1 million forced from their homes since December in violence pitting Christians and Muslims, militias and civilians.
The mostly Muslim rebels, known as Seleka, came from the country's far north in March 2013 to overthrow the president. The situation has stabilized somewhat since rebel-turned-president Michel Djotodia surrendered power amid mounting international condemnation of his inability to stop sectarian bloodshed. A new interim civilian government has pledged to halt the violence and attempt to organize elections by February 2015.
On Tuesday, thousands of jubilant residents took to the streets of Bangui to celebrate after peacekeepers escorted dozens more rebels from military bases. But sectarian tensions remain high, and the U.N. has warned that the exodus of the Seleka has left Muslim civilians vulnerable to retaliatory attacks by Christian militiamen.
EU foreign ministers approved the deployment of a joint military force to CAR last week. The Security Council approved the mission for an initial mandate of six months and authorized it to use force.
Araud said he believes a U.N. peacekeeping mission must eventually be sent to the Central Africa Republic. He said the U.N. officials estimate that 10,000 troops are need to secure the vast country, and he said only the United Nations can provide the expertise and resource to help rebuild the government.
"There is no state left in the Central African Republic and we will need a very strong civilian component to rebuild the state," he said.
The Security Council resolution also orders all member states to freeze all funds, financial assets and economic resources that are owned or controlled by individuals who violate the arms embargo, commit abuses from rape to child soldier recruitment and undermine peace and stability.
It also threatens sanctions against those who obstruct the delivery of humanitarian assistance. On Monday, a World Food Program convoy escorted by African peacekeepers confronted frequent improvised checkpoints set up by armed groups during its journey from the Cameroon border to Bangui. The WFP said 41 food trucks are stranded at the Cameroonian border and more escorts are needed.
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power, who visited the Central African Republic in December, applauded the approval of the sanctions and the EU force, which she said "is urgently needed on the ground."
"The situation in the Central African Republic is dangerous and it is deadly," she said in a statement. She added that "those who have fled their homes, who have seen their loved ones murdered, and who are in dire need of food and shelter - need to see that political spoilers and instigators of atrocities will be held to account."
Araud said France will submit to a Security Council committee a list of individuals who should be subjected to sanctions. The resolution said those targeted could include "political figures" who have provided direction to both anti-Christian and anti-Muslim groups planning violence against civilians. The sanctions will be in place for an initial period of a year.