BUJUMBURA (Reuters) - The United States began air lifting Burundian troops to Central African Republic on Thursday, part of efforts to help African and French forces prevent a descent into civil war, Burundi's army said.
"Burundi is deploying a battalion of troops to the Central African Republic," Colonel Gaspard Baratuza, Burundi army spokesman, told Reuters. "A U.S. plane today airlifted the first team and the operation with U.S. logistics will continue."
The Burundian troops are due to join an African peacekeeping force which has struggled to contain the violence in Central African Republic that has killed more than 500 people in the past week.
Previously a Central African force, the mission is being broadened to fall under African Union command. Troop numbers are due to be increased from 2,500 to around 6,000 following meetings between African leaders in France last week.
The U.S. support for Burundian troops comes after Great Britain started air lifting equipment for French troops to the capital, Bangui.
Baratuza said the Burundian forces were expected to stay in Central African Republic for one year, but that further troops would be sent in, in rotation, if the mission was extended by the United Nations Security Council.
The Bujumbura government has also sent peacekeeping troops to Somalia to battle Islamist militants fighting to impose their strict interpretation of Sharia law on the Horn of Africa nation.
(Reporting by Patrick Nduwimana; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)