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June 23, 2017

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UN approves force for Central African Republic

UNITED NATIONS--The U.N. Security Council on Thursday unanimously approved a nearly 12,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force for Central African Republic, where mounting violence between Christians and Muslims has brought killings, torture and sexual violence.

The 10,000 U.N. troops and 1,800 police will take over from 5,000 African Union soldiers — but not until Sept. 15. A separate 2,000-strong French force in the Central African Republic was authorized to use "all necessary means" to support the new U.N. force.

How much protection U.N. troops will be able to offer is an open question. Keeping civilians safe throughout the Central African Republic, especially in rural areas, is already proving a difficult, if not impossible, task. The country is the size of Texas, many roads have not been repaved since independence from France in 1960, and many of the people escaping violence have fled into the bush.

The country has been in chaos since a March 2013 coup, when mostly Muslim rebels seized power and set up a brutal regime. Christian militiamen attacked rebel strongholds in early December. As the rebel government crumbled in January, the Christian militiamen stepped up the violence, forcing tens of thousands of Muslims to flee.

On the streets of the Central African Republic's capital, Bangui, reactions to the U.N. deployment were muted.

Cyrius Zemangui-Kette, 25, who is unemployed, said U.N. troops should have been sent in long ago, but the international community dragged its feet and now things have gotten worse.

"They say they'll arrive in September," he said. "Until then, lots of Central Africans will continue to die, so who are they coming to save?"

Muslim and Christian leaders in Central African Republic welcomed the U.N. deployment but urged immediate support to the African force.

"Ethnic cleansing is rife and the lives of thousands are at risk," Archbishop of Bangui Dieudonne Nzapalainga warned.

Imam Omar Kobine Layama, the country's most senior Muslim leader, said this week's commemoration of the 1994 Rwanda genocide "is an important reminder of the risks that our country faces" and said the U.N. force must be part of "a long-term strategy to bring peace to our country."

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