Paris - French President Francois Hollande on Thursday called on the United Nations to fast-track the deployment of peacekeepers in the Central African Republic to help quell a bloody sectarian conflict.
In a telephone call to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Hollande said UN troops were needed to help restore peace and prop up the administration of new interim president Catherine Samba-Panza.
"The UN Security Council set a clear mandate [for peacekeepers] which must be quickly and firmly implemented. It's a question mainly of speeding up the preparation for a peacekeeping operation, in close partnership with the African Union," said a statement from the French presidency.
At the same time, France was racing to recruit hundreds of troops for an EU military mission to the CAR.
"We are working with a sense of urgency," said General Philippe Ponties in Brussels Wednesday, who took up the post as the mission chief for the force earlier this week.
The objective is to deploy the first soldiers "as quickly as possible" in the capital Bangui, he said.
France currently has some 1 600 troops in the country and the African Union force MISCA more than 5,000. But they have been unable to stem a looting pandemic and a cycle of revenge attacks between Muslim and Christian fighters.
The CAR plunged into chaos following a coup in March 2013 led by the Seleka rebel movement. After seizing power sectarian violence broke out between the mostly Muslim ex-rebels and the Christian-dominated militias known as the anti-balaka ("anti-machete" in the local Sango language).
On Thursday the self-proclaimed leader of the militias warned the new president not to attempt as she has vowed to crack down on the anti-balaka.
"Declaring war on the anti-balaka amounts to declaring war on the Central African population," Richard Bejouane told hundreds of militiamen gathered in Bangui. He claims their ranks number 52 000, including 12 000 in the capital.
The anti-balaka militias were initially self-defence groups formed in response to abuses committed by rogue ex-Seleka rebels, who are now on the back foot following the French troop deployment two months ago.
Most of the ongoing violence is being blamed on anti-balaka attacks.
Samba Panza, a Christian who took over as interim president last month interim president last month from ex-Seleka boss Michel Djotodia, said on Wednesday her administration was "going to go to war against the anti-balaka."
"The anti-balaka have lost their sense of mission. They are now the ones who kill, who pillage, who are violent," she said.
On the streets on the capital, she appeared to have the support of the citizens.
"The president is right to declare war against these bandits. Everyone is hoping for peace after all that the ex-Seleka made the people live through," Arthur Bissiko, a health worker, told AFP in Bangui.
Amnesty International this week reported that anti-balaka violence had triggered "a Muslim exodus of historic proportions".
"The anti-balaka militias are increasingly organised and using language that suggests their intent is to eliminate Muslim residents" from the country, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.