US urges global help for stricken Central Africa

The United States is calling for deeper international involvement to halt violence in Central African Republic, amid growing alarm that the impoverished nation is on the brink of a possible genocide.

US Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday unveiled $40 million in new funding to help the country, with the bulk of the aid going to support the African Union-led peacekeeping mission known as MISCA.

"It's a very, very serious situation right now," a top State Department official told AFP, asking not to be named.

"It will require extensive, continued and deepened international commitment working with the CAR government to address the humanitarian crisis, to strength MISCA so that it can carry out its security mission, civil protection mission and lay the ground work for" elections set to take place in February 2015, the official added.

In the latest in a long line of rebellions and coups, the Seleka rebel coalition ousted president Francois Bozize in March and put the CAR's first Muslim leader, President Michel Djotodia, in power.

But the move has unleashed unprecedented sectarian bloodshed, with fighting between the mainly Muslim former rebels who seized power in March and militia groups set up to protect Christian communities, which make up about 80 percent of the population.

The unrest has displaced almost 400,000 of the country's estimated 4.6 million people, left 2.3 million in need of assistance and some 1.1 million scrambling to find food, according to the latest UN figures.

France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Thursday that the country was "on the verge of genocide," while a Kerry deputy told US lawmakers this week that it was in a "pre-genocidal" phase.

"The needs are so extensive, it's really hard to say one is greater than the others," the US official said in an interview.

"One area there's going to be a serious need in over the coming year is in food aid, and that's because the population has been so terrorized and traumatized by what's happening in the country, that it's had a serious impact on the planting season and necessarily that's going to cause greater food insecurity in the months ahead."

The US is supporting moves at the United Nations to boost an AU-led force to some 3,652 troops made up of soldiers from Chad, Cameroon, Gabon, Congo-Brazzaville and Equatorial Guinea with a contribution also expected from Burundi.

"The mandate is excessively broad given the very extensive challenge in front of them," the official said, stressing that it was felt the AU force would be better placed to restore order and stability than a UN peacekeeping mission.

Apart from being quicker to set up and equip, "often the UN missions are more peacekeeping and this is not a peacekeeping situation, this is more enforcement," he said.

The UN Security Council plans to vote in early December on a resolution to allow CAR's neighbors, the African Union and France to intervene in the sprawling nation.

French President Francois Hollande said Paris was planning to "significantly increase" its contingent in the country, where it already has 400 soldiers in place to help protect the airport in Bangui and French nationals.

jkb/oh