New York - Central African Republic's foreign minister told the Security Council Thursday that a UN peacekeeping mission is urgently needed in his country to bolster French and African troops struggling to contain sectarian killing between Muslims and Christians.
One top UN official said there essentially has been a "cleaning" of the Muslim population in western Central Africa Republic.
The Security Council met to consider a recommendation from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to establish a 12 000-member UN peacekeeping mission. Diplomats said they expect France to circulate a resolution soon with a view to approving the force by the end of March.
"We would roll out the red carpet for them tomorrow," Toussaint Kongo-Doudou, Central African Republic's foreign minister, told the council. "There are no alternatives in terms of survival."
Central African Republic, long one of the world's poorest and most unstable countries, plunged deeper into chaos nearly a year ago when the Muslim rebels from the north invaded the capital and overthrew the president of a decade.
The rebels pillaged neighborhoods, raping and killing people with impunity for months, giving rise to the Christian militia. Those fighters attempted a coup in early December, and violence between the two communities exploded in the days that followed.
The UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said it would take about six months to organise and deploy the UN peacekeeping force, and much of it would include the current intervention force of nearly 6 000 African Union troops by "re-hatting" them.
There are also about 1 600 French soldiers in Central African Republic who would not be part of a UN peacekeeping operation.
Philipe Bolopion, of Human Rights Watch, criticised the world body for taking too long to move forward on a peacekeeping mission.
"The Security Council has wasted too much time," he said in an interview with The Associated Press. "The UN is clear that despite the French and AU deployments, the human rights situation is still deteriorating."
The African Union has been pressing to give the AU-French force more time to accomplish its mission.
The AU envoy to the United Nations, Tete Antonio, told the Security Council on Thursday that the African Union "welcomes the recommendation for the deployment of a UN peacekeeping operation".
But he called for a transfer date of 15 September 2014 and urged continued support for the AU-French force until then.
The UN high commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, said the crisis had driven over 290 000 refugees into neighbouring countries, and at least 80 000 foreign nationals have fled the country.
Total breakdown of the state
"Since early December we have effectively witnessed a 'cleaning' of the majority of the Muslim population in western" Central African Republic, Guterres said.
The UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said there is a "total breakdown of the state" in Central African Republic, "and the country depends on international aid".
The force now in place is struggling to control the region of the capital, Bangui, and guard at least 70 000 civilians who have sought shelter at an emergency UN base at the airport.
In his report to the Security Council, Ban said the current force's numbers are insufficient and they lack civilian experts in nation-building.
He recommended that the international force be replaced by a UN mission with 10 000 troops that would include the African soldiers now in the country, along with 1 820 police personnel, and a large civilian staff.
The Central African Republic mission would become the UN's third largest peacekeeping force, after those in DRC and Sudan.