BRUSSELS (AP) — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged European and African nations on Wednesday to step up their efforts to end the desperate plight of the people of Central African Republic.
Speaking on the sidelines of a summit meant to promote closer economic ties, Ban appealed to some 70 European and African leaders in Brussels to support more robust action.
"We must act quickly to stop the killings, protect the civilian population and prevent a further separation of communities," Ban said. "It is our collective responsibility to respond," he added.
Hatred toward a now deposed-government of Muslim rebels in the country ignited bitter violence between Muslims and Christians. What started as political disputes have become increasingly sectarian, with mosques set ablaze, Qurans destroyed and Muslims killed. Tens of thousands have fled to neighboring countries.
"Genocide was avoided in large measure because of the mass exodus of minorities to areas where they felt they were safe," Ban said.
The 28-nation EU decided in February to back a French military operation aimed at stopping the sectarian violence. The arrival of the EU contingent of an expected 1,000 troops plus medical and support teams would allow the about 2,000 French troops already there to conduct wider military operations outside the capital, Bangui.
The first 800 EU troops will be on the ground by the end of May, mission chief Gen. Philippe Ponties said.
The EU has pledged a total of 352 million euros ($485 million) in humanitarian and development aid for Central African Republic for this and last year.
Unlike previous EU-Africa summits, development aid wasn't the dominant issue at the gathering, instead leaders sought to improve business ties, acknowledging Africa's growth potential.
"Africa is gaining importance," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said. "Most of all we want to see the opportunities, not only always the problems."
Trade between the two continents has risen steadily in recent years. In 2012, the EU imported African goods worth 187 billion euros, while Africa bought goods worth about 152 billion euros from EU nations.
EU nations granted Africa 141 billion euros in development assistance from 2007 to 2013.
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