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ICC Note: Almost half of a million people have been driven from their homes in the wake of a religious cleansing campaign by the Séléka Islamists. Christian communities have forced self-defense militias to protect lives and property. Late yesterday, a skirmish between a predatory band of Séléka and a local militia developed into a pitched battle that left 105 dead, and many more wounded. The Islamists are equipped with modern weaponry and are veteran fighters, with many experienced  foreign jihadists in their ranks  The militias are often armed only with machetes and hunting rifles. It is likely that the majority of casualties were inflicted upon Christians by the Séléka. France has stated that it will begin preparations today to establish peacekeeping operations immediately, before the situation devolves even further.
12/05/2013 Central African Republic (Reuters) – France said it would act immediately in Central African Republic after securing U.N. backing to halt sectarian violence that rocked the capital on Thursday and risked escalating into widespread civilian massacres.
A Reuters witness and an aid worker said at least 105 people were killed in fierce fighting in Bangui between mainly Muslim former rebels now in charge of the country and a mix of local Christian militia and fighters loyal to ousted president Francois Bozize. Many were civilians.
Mindful of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, when hundreds of thousands were killed as the world looked on, the United States and other Western powers have urged swift international action to prevent the anarchy in Central African Republic leading to atrocities against the civilian population.
Most of the fighting in Bangui had eased by midday and the streets were largely deserted, but the death toll mounted and there were reports of widespread abuses during the fighting.
“I have decided to act immediately, in other words, this evening,” French President Francois Hollande told reporters, hours after a vote at the U.N. Security Council authorized French and African troops to use force to protect civilians.
An arms embargo was also imposed on the country and the Security Council asked the United Nations to prepare for a possible peacekeeping mission.
France has about 650 troops based at Bangui airport. Some 250 of these were deployed in town on Thursday to protect French interests and citizens. Hollande said the numbers of French troops present in the country would be doubled as early as this evening due to reinforcements from neighboring states.
Hundreds of French troops had been pre-positioned in Cameroon, Gabon and Chad, pending the U.N. approval to help restore order in Central African Republic.
The former French colony has slipped into chaos since mainly Muslim rebels seized power in March, leading to tit-for-tat sectarian violence with the Christian majority. However, the violence on Thursday was the worst the capital has seen during this year’s crisis.
“We’ve received numerous reports from very credible sources of extrajudicial executions,” said Joanne Mariner, a crisis expert with Amnesty International who is in Bangui.
“This underscores the need for international troops to arrive and secure the city. The situation is quickly spiraling out of control,” Mariner said.
Fifty-three bodies had been brought to a mosque in Bangui’s PK5 neighborhood. Most victims appeared to have been clubbed or hacked to death, a Reuters witness said.
Samuel Hanryon, who works for medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres at Bangui’s Hopital Communautaire, said there were another 52 bodies at the morgue there.
African peacekeepers protecting hundreds of civilians in their base in Bossangoa about 300 km north of the capital also came under heavy fire from the former rebels on Thursday, witnesses said.
Central African Republic is rich in gold, diamonds and uranium but decades of instability and spillover from conflicts in its larger neighbors have kept it mired in crisis.
Michel Djotodia, leader of the Seleka former rebel alliance, is now the country’s interim president but he has struggled to control his loose band of fighters, many of whom are gunmen from neighboring Chad and Sudan.
Mainly Christian local defense groups, known as “anti-balaka”, have sprung up in response to abuses committed in Bangui and other parts of the country by the former rebels.
Some 400,000 people, or 10 percent of the population, have been force from their homes.