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UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. Security Council is set to authorize increased military action by France and African troops to try to end near-anarchy in the Central African Republic, which has seen an upsurge in Muslim-Christian violence along with widespread killings, torture and rapes.
France called for a vote Thursday on a resolution that would authorize the deployment of an African Union-led force in the poor, landlocked country for a year to protect civilians and restore security and public order.
It also would authorize French forces, for a temporary period, "to take all necessary measures" to support the AU-led force known as MISCA, whose troop numbers are expected to rise from about 2,500 to 3,500.
France's U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud has said he expects the council to approve the resolution.
France promised last week to send 1,000 troops to the Central African Republic following a warning from French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius that the former French colony "is on the verge of genocide." The Defense Ministry has said about 600 are in the country.
Whether the French and African forces can save lives largely depends on how far the foreign soldiers venture outside the capital, Bangui, and into the lawless provinces. That's where mostly Muslim rebels have been attacking Christian villages. Christian militias, known as anti-balaka, recently have launched retaliatory attacks, forcing thousands of civilians to take refuge in churches and mosques.
The proposed resolution welcomes Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's intention to prepare for the possible transformation of MISCA into a U.N. peacekeeping operation. It asks the U.N. chief to provide recommendations for the possible transformation within three months.
The draft resolution also would impose an arms embargo on the Central African Republic for a year and order all countries to ban the sale or transfer of arms, ammunition, military equipment, spare parts and technical assistance and training.
The country's chaos started late last year when rebel groups joined forces to form the coalition known as Seleka. In March, the rebels overthrew the president and installed their leader in power. But President Michel Djotodia now exerts little control over the renegade fighters in the provinces, most of whom are Muslim and who are accused of committing atrocities and forcibly recruiting child soldiers.
U.S. State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf on Wednesday said the United States is appalled at reports that innocent women and children were murdered outside Bangui, which illustrated the deteriorating humanitarian and security situation "that could lead to an escalation in violence and further atrocities."
The U.S. recently announced $40 million in assistance to MISCA to help protect civilians and provide security throughout the country, and Harf said the Obama administration is committed to supporting international efforts to find a solution to the crisis that protects civilians, restores security and puts the country back on the path to democratic governance.
The International Crisis Group think tank warned this week that the situation on the ground is deteriorating at a much faster pace than the international response is mobilizing and that the Central African Republic is staring "into an abyss of potentially appalling proportions." It supported AU and French military action and called for immediate inter-religious dialogue and urgent reconstruction projects.
The draft Security Council resolution expresses deep concern at the "total breakdown in law and order, the absence of the rule of law, inter-sectarian tensions" and "grave concern" at the consequences of instability on the region.
It asks the secretary-general to rapidly establish an international commission of inquiry to investigate allegations of rights abuses and help identify perpetrators.