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African Union boosts troop levels in CAR to protect civilians from rival militias

By Susanna Capelouto, CNN
December 15, 2013 -- Updated 0132 GMT (0932 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: African Union authorizes 6,000 troops to help ease violence between Muslim and Christian militias in CAR
  • U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appeals for peace between Christians, Muslims
  • CAR's Muslim militia-backed President says he welcomes talks with Christian rebel groups
  • Fighting in the nation has killed 600 and displaced 159,000 people according to U.N.

(CNN) -- The African Union decided to temporarily boost it's troop levels in the Central African Republic to 6,000 soldiers because of "hightened communal and inter-religious tension and clashes," according to a statement by the group.

They join 1,600 French peacekeeping troops already on the ground in the former French colony, where brutal clashes between rival Muslim and Christian militias have left 600 people dead and 159 displaced, according to the U.N High Commissioner of Refugees.

The CAR has seen violence and chaos since the Muslim-backed Seleka militia and other rebel groups from the marginalized northeast seized the capital Bangui in March. President Francios Bozize fled to Cameroon, and Michel Djotodia, who had been one of the Seleka leaders, made himself President.

Djotodia later officially disbanded the Seleka, but as many as 15,000 kept their arms and instead continued to wreak havoc in Bangui and elsewhere. They mainly targeted Christian communities, which in turn formed their own vigilante group, the anti-Balaka (literally "anti-machete").

On Saturday Djotodia , said he would welcome talks with Christian rebel groups fighting the Seleka militia.

He made the comments to Radio France Internacionale (RFI) after the anti-Balaka militia offered to hold talks.

"The anti-Balaka can come out and will not be harmed," Djotodia told RFI, "measures will be taken to release some of them who have been held by the government"

But the anti-Balaka want more guarantees for their safety, including an amnesty law. They're also pushing to include supporters of ousted President Bozize in the government, which is a move Djotodia said "needs to be debated."

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also took to the airwaves Friday in an appeal to the citizens of the CAR, a U.N. statement said.

"I am deeply troubled by what is happening in your country and I want to speak to you personally," he said.

"Too many people are scared and the country is on the brink of ruin. I appeal to everyone to follow the path of peace. The bloodshed must stop"

Ban urged people not to let their faith dictate violent behavior.

"I call on religious and community leaders, Muslim and Christian, to act as messengers for peace," he said.

The relief agency UNICEF said Saturday it has successfully delivered the largest shipment of humanitarian supplies to the CAR since the violence began: A cargo flight landed Saturday with enough emergency kits to help up to 37,500 people.

"The emergency supplies will get to children and families most in need," a UNICEF spokesman said.

The CAR is about the size of France and a country rich in resources, including diamonds, gold, timber and ivory, but it has rarely seen political stability or economic growth in the 53 years since it gained independence.

CNN's Nana Karikari-apau contributed to this report.

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