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France to send 800 more troops to Central Africa


France will send 800 extra troops to Central African Republic and circulate a UN Security Council resolution Monday on backing an African force in the strife-torn country, diplomats said.

As calls mount to head off what some UN officials call a genocide risk, Central African Republic dominated meetings at the Security Council and in Paris.

Central African Republic Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye said after talks with France Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in Paris that Fabius had talked of sending 800 troops to reinforce 410 French soldiers already based in the capital, Bangui.

Tiangaye said "serious war crimes" are being committed in the country where rebels forced President Francois Bozize to flee in March. A transitional government has since lost control of the country of 4.5 million people.

French officials had already spoken of increasing troop numbers in Central African Republic, but France's foreign ministry would not confirm the figures given by the visiting prime minister.

France, which has joined the genocide warnings also made by the United States and the UN, said it would circulate a draft Security Council resolution to the other 14 members on Monday night.

The resolution would aim to give backing to an African stabilization force in Central African Republic as a first step toward turning it into a formal UN peacekeeping force, diplomats said.

France's UN ambassador Gerard Araud said he hoped for a vote next week on the resolution which would call on the UN to report in three months on whether a full peackeeping force is needed.

An African force, officially known as MISCA, currently has about 2,500 troops, which should increase to about 3,600 when it is taken over by the African Union in December.

But UN officials and experts say the force is not big enough.

UN leader Ban Ki-moon has said up to 9,000 peacekeepers could be needed in Central African Republic, where raids by rebels have degenerated into battles between rival Muslim and Christian groups. The Seleka coalition which forced out Bozize is largely Muslim.

The Security Council "must authorize a strong Chapter VII mandate for French and African forces" to expand their presence and protect civilians against "terrorizing militia," US ambassador Samantha Power said in a Twitter comment after talks on the crisis.

Chapter VII would allow French and African troops to use force to protect civilians.

Power has already called for sanctions against the leaders of violence and unrest that has gripped the mineral rich country, which remains one of the world's poorest.

Aid workers say whole villages have been burned down and that rapes, torture and indiscriminate killing has become widespread.

UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson called for the Security Council to act quickly on the crisis.

Eliasson said Central African Republic is "becoming a breeding ground for extremists and armed groups in a region that is already suffering from conflict."

"A country in the heart of Africa is descending into complete chaos before our eyes," Eliasson told the 15-member council. "The situation requires prompt and decisive action."

Ban Ki-moon has suggested possible financial support for MISCA while also proposing that it become a full UN peacekeeping mission.

Diplomats expect the UN mission to be created early in 2014.