Central Africa Republic peace force rises to 10,000 as new survey says deaths 'underestimated'

The Muslim population of Bangui has dropped from 138,000 to 900.

The peacekeeping force for the Central African Republic (CAR) is set to rise to nearly 10,000, with some 2,500 troops joining African and French forces UN and French officials said.

Bangladesh, Pakistan and Morocco have agreed to contribute three battalions to the new UN force, France’s UN Ambassador Gerard Araud said Wednesday.

Indonesia and Cambodia are sending engineers, while Sri Lanka will provide helicopters for much-needed patrols in rural areas.

The first contingents will begin arriving around September 15 and will beef up the 6,000 African troops serving in the African Union’s MISCA force.

The head of UN peacekeeping operations, Herve Ladsous, said the new UN force will work to strengthen security at a “significantly superior” level than the current MISCA operation.

“I believe it will contribute in a powerful way to strengthen security, ” said Ladsous after briefing the UN Security Council in New York on the mission.

One of Africa’s poorest countries, CAR has been in crisis since the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in a March 2013 coup. They were ousted early this year, and amidst an orgy of blood-letting, Catherine Samba-Panza, the mayor of Bangui, was elected as the interim president.

Sectarian violence in the country only got worse with the rise of the anti-balaka Christian militia. Between it and the Seleka, they have laid parts of the country to waste.

The violence has driven more than one million people from their homes.

A new survey released Wednesday indicated that the number of people killed during the height of the CAR conflict has been underestimated.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF - Medecins San Frontieres) said that a survey of thousands of CAR refugees in neighbouring Chad found that nearly 2,600 people were killed in the unrest between November 2013 and April of this year.

Relief organisations previously estimated that between 1,000 and 2,000 people died in fighting between the mostly Muslim ex-Seleka rebels and mostly Christian anti-balaka militias.

In its report MSF said more than a quarter of the refugees surveyed had lost at least two family members. Most of the deaths were from gunshots, machete wounds or explosions.

The number of internally displaced inside the country due to the violence is also now estimated at  600,000, with 160,000 of these in the capital Bangui.

The Muslim population of Bangui has dropped from 138,000 to 900. The national health system has collapsed and over half of the total population of 4.6 million are said to be in need of immediate aid. Also from December 2013 to May 2014, 100,000 people had fled to neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) bringing the number of CAR refugees in these countries to about 350,000.

It is too early to say how much difference the new troops will make. Ladsous said the UN is hoping for more contributions for a total of 10,000 troops, but added that  this “will not happen overnight.”

An additional 2,000 police are to join in the mission, with Senegal and Rwanda pledging to take part.

The French ambassador said the UN troops will have to carry out patrols and “show the flag” to assert their peacekeeping role.

Preparations to deploy the new UN mission come as key players in the conflict are to meet in Brazzaville on July 21 for reconciliation talks.

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