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France to send more troops to CAR

French foreign ministry says the troops would be sent once it gets UN approval.

French President François Hollande. Picture: Reinart Toerien.

PARIS/UNITED NATIONS - France will triple the number of its soldiers in the Central African Republic to 1,200 to bolster security after months of violence, the war-torn nation's prime minister said on Monday.

The mineral-rich but impoverished country of 4.6 million people has descended into chaos since Seleka rebels, many of them from neighbouring Chad and Sudan, ousted President Francois Bozize in March.

Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told him the reinforcements would arrive once the UN Security Council adopts a resolution backing the force, which France hopes will occur in early December.

"We spoke about the security question. France has 410 soldiers now in Bangui and that will be strengthened by 800, to take the number to 1,200 - more if needed," Tiangaye told Reuters after meeting Fabius in Paris.

French UN Ambassador Gerard Araud said Paris would reinforce its Central African Republic presence, but did not confirm Tiangaye's figures. He said that until an African Union force of 3,600 troops - known as MISCA - was fully operational, French troops would start trying to restore law and order.

The US State Department estimates that nearly 400,000 people have been displaced and 68,000 have fled to neighbouring countries since Seleka leader and interim President Michel Djotodia lost control of his loose coalition of warlords.

The violence has increasingly pitted the mainly Muslim fighters of the Seleka rebels against Christian militias. Christians make up half the population and Muslims 15 percent.

There is currently a 2,500-strong regional peacekeeping force in Central African Republic deployed by the Economic Community of Central African States. The African Union is due to take charge of that force in December and boost its size.

The French Foreign Ministry did not confirm Tiangaye's comments.

BREEDING GROUND FOR RADICALISM

US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said on Twitter that the council should authorise a strong mandate for the French and African troops to "expand presence, protect civilians, confront terrorising militia."

The resolution will also ask UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to report to the council in three months on the likely transformation of the AU force into a UN peacekeeping force.

Ban said this month he had also ordered officials to start preparing for the likely deployment of a UN peacekeeping mission. The initial strength should be 6,000 troops and 1,700 police, with an option of increasing the size to 9,000 troops if the situation worsened, Ban added.

Tiangaye said the French troops would help secure the road from neighbouring Cameroon to the riverside capital, Bangui, allowing supply trucks into the landlocked country.

Eliasson told the Security Council on Monday that Central African Republic was becoming a breeding ground for extremists and armed groups.

Rights group Amnesty International warned on Monday that the crisis was spinning out of control.

"The international community must take action before it is too late to ensure that the abuses come to an end and that CAR isn't catapulted into the international spotlight because it became a human catastrophe," Amnesty Secretary General Salil Shetty said in a statement.