By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Amid a U.S. push to cut United Nations peacekeeping costs, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday he hoped the U.N. Security Council would agree to send an extra 900 troops to protect civilians in Central African Republic.
Guterres, who will visit Central African Republic next week, told reporters that while peacekeepers had "helped avert the worst" when mass atrocities were being committed in the country five years ago, the situation remained "very troubling."
"Across the country, communal tensions are growing. Violence is spreading. And the humanitarian situation is deteriorating," Guterres said. "There is a need to increase the capacity of our troops in Central African Republic to protect civilians."
"I am convinced there will be a very positive understanding of all the members of the Security Council, including the United States of America, in relation to this," he said.
Thousands have died and a fifth of Central Africans have fled a conflict that broke out after mainly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted President Francois Bozize in 2013, provoking a backlash from Christian anti-balaka militias.
Although unrest has since subsided, fighting has spiked this year and the United Nations warned that ethnic fighting could descend again into a much larger conflict.
U.N. peacekeepers were deployed in 2014 and the Security Council is due to renew the mandate for the mission of more than 12,000 troops and police by mid-November. In a report to the council on Tuesday, Guterres recommended an extra 900 troops.
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley has led a push to cut peacekeeping costs and is reviewing each operation as annual mandates come up for renewal by the Security Council. President Donald Trump wants to cap the U.S. share of the peacekeeping bill at 25 percent, down from 28.5 percent, a level he says is "unfair."
The United States is a veto-wielding member of the council, along with Britain, France, Russia and China. There are currently more than a dozen peacekeeping missions with a total annual budget of more than $7.3 billion.
Guterres has pledged to make U.N. peacekeeping more efficient but has noted that the current budget to fund it is less than one half of 1 percent of global military spending.
U.N. peacekeepers in Central African Republic have also been dogged by allegations of sexual abuse that the world body has been working to address.
"I am pained that some peacekeepers are alleged to have committed egregious acts of sexual exploitation and abuse against the people of the Central African Republic," Guterres said.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by James Dalgleish)