The United Nations took over a regional African peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic on Monday, nine months after sectarian violence erupted that has left at least 5,000 people dead and has forced tens of thousands of Muslims to flee into exile in neighboring countries.
About 1,800 additional peacekeepers and police joined the mission as the United Nations took over, along with some 4,800 African troops and 1,000 international police from the previous mission. But the newly combined force is only about 65 percent of what was authorized by the U.N. Security Council in April.
The U.N. Security Council, human rights groups and others called for the full and speedy deployment of the nearly 12,000-strong force, which diplomats have said won’t take place until early 2015.
“The switch from AU to U.N. peacekeepers must be more than a cosmetic change: the swapping green berets for blue helmets. Instead it must serve as a fresh start for the peacekeeping operation in CAR,” said Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s campaigns deputy regional director for West and Central Africa.
The Security Council welcomed “the seamless transition of authority” from the African-led force and stressed the importance of accelerating the full deployment of 10,000 military personnel, including 240 observers and 200 staff officers, and 1,800 police.
The peacekeepers face an enormous task: bringing peace to a country the size of Texas with some 4.6 million people that is one of the least developed on the African continent. Some roads have not been repaired since independence from France in 1960 and others are near-inaccessible during the rainy season. The country’s vast north was largely anarchic even before the violence erupted and is home to a plethora of rebel groups and armed movements.
The new reinforcements have come from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Morocco and Bangladesh to join peacekeepers from other countries in Central Africa.
The U.N. says it has taken months to solicit contributions from member states and mobilize the force now coming to reinforce the existing African mission.