By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on Thursday urging the United Nations to consider establishing a full-fledged peacekeeping force in virtually lawless Central African Republic.
The landlocked, mineral-rich Central African Republic, or CAR, has slipped into chaos since northern Seleka rebels seized the capital, Bangui, and ousted President Francois Bozize in March. U.N. officials and rights groups say both sides may have committed war crimes.
"Your vote provides a glimmer of hope for the 4.6 million men, women and children in the CAR," CAR's U.N. Ambassador Charles Armel Doubane told the council after the vote.
Last month French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius warned that CAR risked becoming a new Somalia if it did not get immediate support.
The resolution adopted by the 15-member council calls on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to submit a report within 30 days that would outline possible international support to a planned African Union peacekeeping mission to CAR known as MISCA.
The resolution says Ban's report should include "detailed options for international support to MISCA, including the possible option of a transformation of MISCA into a United Nations peacekeeping operation, subject to appropriate conditions on the ground."
"Obviously the challenges are well beyond their means," French U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters. "So the idea is the African force will be to provide robust support to the efforts of the central government to re-establish the authority of the state."
The council voiced serious concern at "violations of international humanitarian law and the widespread human rights violations and abuses, notably by Seleka elements," and demanded "that the Seleka elements and all other armed groups lay down their arms immediately."
France, which intervened this year to oust Islamist rebels from another of its former colonies, Mali, has been reluctant to get directly involved in the crisis. It has urged African nations and the African Union to do their utmost to resolve the crisis among themselves.
But while the African Union plans to deploy the 3,600-strong MISCA peacekeeping mission in the country, incorporating a regional force of 1,100 soldiers already on the ground, it is unlikely to be operational before 2014.
OVERSHADOWED BY SYRIA
A report by Human Rights Watch in New York describes what it says was Seleka's deliberate killing of civilians, including women and children, between March and June of this year and its deliberate destruction of more than 1,000 homes.
Some Western diplomats say the situation in CAR is too fragile to permit the deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping force in the foreseeable future.
U.N. officials and diplomats say the crisis in CAR has failed to generate much international interest, having been overshadowed by other conflicts such as the Syrian civil war.
The African Union had asked for financial, logistical and technical support from the United Nations, and senior U.N. officials have recommended that the Security Council approve this request.
The council resolution also called for increased support for the U.N. Integrated Peacebuilding Office, or BINUCA, allowing it to go beyond Bangui and providing it with rights observers to investigate and report on human rights violations, including sexual violence against women and children.
It suggests the possibility of taking "appropriate measures" - diplomatic code for sanctions - against those who undermine stability and security in the country.
France has a small force in Bangui securing the airport and its local interests. French diplomatic sources have said Paris would be ready to provide logistical support and increase its troop numbers to between 700 and 750 if needed.
French Foreign Minister Fabius will travel to Bangui on Sunday to assess the situation, a French diplomatic source said on Tuesday.
Michel Djotodia, who swept to power at the head of CAR's rebellion, was officially sworn in as the country's president this year. But he has failed to contain waves of looting and killing by gunmen.
CAR is rich in gold, diamonds and uranium, but decades of instability and the spillover from conflicts in its larger neighbors have left the country's 4.5 million people mired in cycles of crises.
(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Xavier Briand)