European Union foreign ministers on Monday unanimously approved a joint military force to assist French and African troops trying to quell anarchy and bloodshed in Central African Republic resulting from sectarian violence.
It will be the EU's first major ground operation in six years.
More than 1,000 people, primarily Muslims, were killed over the course of several days in the country's capitol Bangui last month alone, and nearly 1 million people have been displaced from their homes.
The 28-nation bloc is now preparing operational details to dispatch between 500 to 1000 soldiers to stabilize the situation in and around Bangui, said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.
However, it is still mostly unclear which nations will contribute soldiers to the EU mission.
The deployment initially limited to six months would come as reinforcement to some 1,600 French troops that were quickly dispatched there last month to assist some 4,400 overwhelmed African Union troops to restore order.
EU countries will hold another vote to approve the deployment once the operational details have been hammered out. Officials hope the mission can be on the ground by March.
International donors holding a separate meeting in Brussels, meanwhile, pledged $496 million in humanitarian assistance for the strife-torn country, U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos announced.
âWe have a 100-day-plan which is now fully funded and now additional resources which will go toward the plan for the rest of the year,â she said.
CAR started descending into chaos last March with a rebel force's bid to overthrow longtime President Francois Bozize. The fighters soon began pillaging homes and killing civilians. Over time, resentment grew in the predominantly Christian country toward the rebels, most of them minority Muslims from the distant north, setting the stage for increasing sectarian violence.
âThe brutality, violence and sectarian nature of the crisis concern us all,â Amos insisted.
As part of the new humanitarian assistance, some $200 million is earmarked for immediate humanitarian needs, with the remainder set aside for financing medium-term projects to help the country get back on its feet, EU Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva said.
The Commission, the European Union's executive arm, is contributing some $60 million. The U.S. gives $45 million, France about the same, the World Bank around $100 million and the African Development Bank another $75 million, according to the EU Commission.
At the foreign ministers' meeting, Estonia offered up to 55 service members and Lithuania, Slovenia and Finland said they were considering whether to participate, according to EU officials. Greece offered to host the force headquarters.
French President Francois Hollande previously said Poland has offered a transport plane and the personnel to fly and maintain it.
âWithin its zone of operations, the military force will contribute to the regional and international efforts to protect the most-endangered people and increase the civilians' freedom of movement,â the ministers said in their joint statement.
On the same day that the aid was promised, the mayor of the the country's capital, Bangui was elected to serve as the interim president of the Central African Republic.
Catherine Samba-Panza, 58, will be the first woman to lead the nation, and she will probably serve for a little more than a year, with the goal of leading it to national elections. Her appointment came from an unusual assortment of unelected rebel sympathisers, politicians, artists and others who have filled in as a substitute parliament for a nation so fractured that it has suffered a total breakdown of the state in recent months.
Now, hopes are high here that she can halt this impoverished nation's precipitous "free fall," as the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, referred to it in a statement on Monday.
The consensus, in the assembly chamber and on the street, was that men had inexorably led the country into a spiral of vicious violence, and that the only hope was for a woman to lead it out.
"Everything we have been through has been the fault of men," said Marie-Louise Yakemba, who heads a civil-society organisation that brings together people of different faiths, and who cheered loudly when the speaker announced Ms Samba-Panza's victory. "We think that with a woman, there is at least a ray of hope," she said.
Ms Samba-Panza's election came after a laborious five-hour process involving two separate hand counts and the double reading-out of all 120-odd members of the assembly.
"EU gives green light for military force for CAR" The Washington Post January 20, 2013
"EU Diplomats Move Toward Deploying Force In CAR" National Public Radio January 20, 2013
"EU agrees rare military mission to help C. Africa" Agence France press January 21, 2013
"Woman chosen to lead CAR out of mayhem" The Sydney Morning Herald January 21, 2013
Reproduced with permission from Islam Today