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Brussels (UPI) Feb 14, 2013
Turmoil in Africa, dubbed in Brussels as the European Union's back yard, poses a growing challenge to EU concerns over regional security and defense cost overruns.
France announced Friday it will send 400 additional troops and police to the Central African Republic to reinforce peacekeeping efforts by about French 1,600 troops already in the country, France 24 reported.
The Elysee Palace office of President Francois Hollande called on other EU and African nations to contribute to the peace operations, which include keeping apart the country's Muslim and Christian communities after weeks of sectarian violence.
Scores have been killed or wounded but exact numbers of casualties remain uncertain, relief officials say.
An unspecified number of more than a million CAR citizens displaced by the violence have fled to neighboring countries of Cameroon, Chad, Congo and the Democratic Republic Congo, Sudan and South Sudan, U.N. and other relief agencies said.
More than 100,000 of those fleeing violence are camped outside Bangui airport but relief and shelter for the homeless remains scarce. Hundreds of other displaced families are in makeshift camps across the country.
Hollande repeated calls to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to hasten deployment of more peacekeepers under the U.N. flag, adding to about 5,500 African Union troops that are struggling to stem sectarian violence.
International response to U.N. pleas for troops has been lukewarm and the number of troops remains well short of a target of about 10,700 set by the U.N. chief as violence spiraled last year.
Advocacy groups say sectarian killing has taken on the character of ethnic cleansing, with armed gangs from both sides intent on settling scores by random slaughter of men, women and children. Ban said this week the worsening violence raised the risk of genocide.
EU officials say they are working on plans to set up a safe zone in Bangui, the capital, that may include contribution of troops from Ethiopia. An early dispatch of EU troops from member countries other than France has been discussed but the plan remains vague.
Diplomatic efforts in Brussels this week focused on drawing more commitments from EU member countries as well as non-EU countries including Canada, Turkey and the United States.
EU officials have not discussed the costs of EU peacekeeping operations, but the safe zone plans will likely require EU cash input of at least $40 million, news reports said. French costs of the operation also have not been revealed.
French military officials in Bangui indicated plans for establishing a safe zone in the capital were still being pursued and depend on more international contributions of troops and police.
Turkey will consider an EU request to deploy troops to the Central African Republic "as part of a union-wide effort to halt ethnic cleansing against the country's Muslim population," Turkey's Hurriyet Daily News said.
Turkish officials were among non-EU representatives called to the EU security meeting Thursday, led by French Maj. Gen. Philippe Ponties, newly appointed commander of the EU military operation in the country.
Turkey was asked to contribute to the force either in the field or at the headquarters, although EU sources declined to comment on the scope and nature of the demand they made to the countries, Hurriyet said. Georgia, Norway and Serbia were among other non-EU countries asked to help the operation.
EU officials say concerns over deteriorating security conditions across Africa have increased since the fall of former Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi in 2011 led to spillover violence in francophone west African countries, including Mali.
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