UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has recommended 560 troops be sent to the Central African Republic to protect a United Nations political mission in the virtually lawless country.
The landlocked, mineral-rich country 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.
The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution this month urging the United Nations to consider establishing a full-fledged peacekeeping force and asking Ban for interim plans for a guard force to protect the U.N. Integrated Peacebuilding Office, known as BINUCA.
"Initially composed of 250 military personnel deployed in Bangui, the guard unit would, in a second phase, increase its strength to a battalion size unit of 560 military personnel, with its own enablers, in order to progressively deploy to locations outside Bangui where the United Nations has a presence," Ban said in a letter to the 15-member council.
He said that given the urgency of the situation, as an interim measure the 250 troops could be temporarily redeployed from another U.N. peacekeeping operation. The guards would provide perimeter security and access control.
The U.N. Security Council is expected to approve the U.N. guard force on Friday, diplomats said.
France, which intervened this year to oust Islamist rebels from another of its former colonies, Mali, has been reluctant to get directly involved. 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 a 3,600-member peacekeeping mission in the country - known as MISCA - incorporating a regional force of 1,100 soldiers already on the ground, it is unlikely to be operational before 2014.
Some Western diplomats say the situation in Central African Republic is too fragile to permit the deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping force in the foreseeable future.
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.
Central African Republic 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 Michelle Nichols)