By Marine Pennetier
PARIS (Reuters) - U.N. peacekeepers in Central African Republic need stronger powers to take on armed groups trying to disrupt the build-up to presidential elections, the country's interim prime minister Mahamat Kamoun said.
Central African Republic descended into turmoil in March 2013, when mainly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power earlier in the year provoking a backlash from Christian anti-balaka militias forcing France to intervene.
Seleka later handed power to a transitional government, which was meant to steer the country to presidential and parliamentary elections, which are now set for Dec. 27.
But the former French colony has been embroiled in unrest since September, with tit-for-tat militia attacks. The government has blamed deposed president Francois Bozize and ex-Seleka rebels opposed to the transition process.
"We have gone beyond a peacekeeping operation, it is now urban warfare led by ex-rebels and soldiers who are battle-hardened and it's not U.N. police officers that will be able to do anything about it," Kamoun told Reuters in an interview.
There are about 12,000 U.N. and French peacekeepers in the country. Kamoun said a delegation from the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) would meet the United Nations Security Council in the coming days to push for MINUSCA (U.N. forces) to be given a more robust mandate.
"WE MUST MOVE FORWARD"
"It's unacceptable and incomprehensible that with number of MINUSCA and the means that Sangaris (French troops) has that we can't stop these people. They know that neither Sangaris or MINUSCA will shoot at them," Kamoun, who was attending the Paris climate change talks, said late on Tuesday.
"It's worrying because if we don't stop them, they will be able to create tension with a view to scaring voters."
Kamoun dismissed any suggestions that the elections could once again be delayed. He also ruled out any chance of Bozize, who is under U.N. sanctions, but who has nevertheless presented his candidacy for the election, running.
"Central Africa must move forward and not backwards. Burkina Faso has set a good example," he said, referring to the peaceful presidential election that took place this week just a year after President Blaise Compaore was removed from power.
He also warned that if France, which has said it will reduce its 900 troops after the election, pulled out suddenly it could open the door for renewed conflict.
"The French know that the situation remains fragile and that there's no point doing the work, leaving and then coming back because that risks stoking the cycle of violence," he said.
(Writing by John Irish; Editing by Andrew Callus and Andrew Heavens)