UN moves closer to Central Africa peacekeeping force

The United Nations Security Council called Thursday for a possible UN peacekeeping force to end anarchy in the Central African Republic, while France said it could send extra troops there.

The 15-member council voted unanimously for a resolution urging UN leader Ban Ki-moon to prepare a report in 30 days on strengthening a small African force in the country, where rebels overthrew the president in March.

The African Union-mandated International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA) currently has only about 1,400 troops.

The UN resolution, drafted by France, calls on African countries "to provide timely and effective support" to the force.

Ban's report should consider "the possible option of a transformation of MISCA into a United Nations peacekeeping operation, subject to appropriate conditions on the ground," it added.

The resolution was adopted amid reports of another 50 dead in clashes between rebels and rival groups. And with chaos growing, some diplomats say there is not yet a peace to keep in the Central African Republic.

There have been reports of children being forced into rival militias, mass rapes and looting in several towns.

Some 300,000 people are internally displaced or have fled to neighboring countries, according to the UN.

The UN resolution expressed deep concern at the "total breakdown of law and order."

Ban could recommend a full peacekeeping operation or to set up a special fund for the African force and help with its planning. Any peacekeeping force would need a new UN resolution.

France has about 450 troops in the Central African Republic, where a coalition of rebels named Seleka overthrew President Francois Bozize in March.

"The hypothesis of a limited reinforcement is on the table," France's UN Ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters.

French troops are concentrated in the capital Bangui, where they control the airport. French officials have indicated the force could be increased to 700 troops.

Seleka chief Michel Djotodia made himself president after Bozize fled.

Under a deal brokered by African leaders, an interim government is due to organize elections. But the government has lost control of the huge nation.

Radical groups from other countries, such as the Lord's Resistance Army, have poured in and France has stepped up warnings that the country could become a failed state haven for terrorists.

Araud stressed, however, that France would not intervene in the Central African Republic as it did in Mali, where a French force halted a takeover by Al-Qaeda-linked militants.

A repeat move is "excluded," Araud said, while calling for urgent action on the Central African Republic.

Bangui's UN Ambassador Charles-Armel Doubane thanked each Security Council country by name for voting the resolution. He said the strife had become Africa's "forgotten" conflict.

"We have to give a chance to secure peace," he added.

Araud noted that "this crisis is not on the front page of the newspaper, but nevertheless it is an awful situation."

A security official in Bangui said Wednesday that nearly 50 people have been killed in the northwestern village of Garga during clashes between Seleka followers and local self-defence groups.

Most of the victims were "shot dead in cold blood in their homes," the official told AFP.

The Central African Republic is one of the world's poorest nations but has huge resource reserves. Garga is one of the mining towns that rival groups are now battling to control.

Djotodia on Wednesday sacked communications minister Christophe Gazam Betty, the third ex-Seleka minister to lose his post in recent weeks.

The government also appointed 12 commanders to head forces of between 200 and 400 troops around the country in a bid to improve security.