UN chief pushes for extra peacekeepers in Central Africa

web_photo_Antonio Guterres_27072017

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

UNITED NATIONS – Amid a US push to cut costs for United Nations peacekeeping, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday he hoped the UN Security Council would agree to send an extra 900 troops to protect civilians in Central African Republic (CAR).

Guterres, who will visit CAR next week, told reporters that while peacekeepers had "helped avert the worst" when mass atrocities were being committed in the country five years ago, the situation remained "very troubling."

"Across the country, communal tensions are growing. Violence is spreading... the humanitarian situation is deteriorating, there is a need to increase the capacity of our troops in Central African Republic to protect civilians," Guterres said.

"I am convinced there will be a very positive understanding of all the members of the Security Council, including the United States of America, in relation to this," he said.

READ: Under US pressure, UN agrees deep cuts to peacekeeping

Thousands died and a fifth of Central Africans fled a conflict that broke out after mainly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted President Francois Bozize in 2013, provoking a backlash from Christian anti-balaka militias.

Although unrest has since subsided, fighting spiked this year and the United Nations warned that ethnic fighting could descend again into a much larger conflict.

UN peacekeepers were deployed in 2014 and the Security Council is due to renew the mandate for the mission of more than 12,000 troops and police by mid-November. In a report to the council on Tuesday, Guterres recommended an extra 900 troops.

US Ambassador Nikki Haley led a push to cut peacekeeping costs and is reviewing each operation as annual mandates come up for renewal by the Security Council. President Donald Trump wants to cap the US share of the peacekeeping bill at 25 percent, down from 28.5 percent, a level he said is "unfair."

The United States is a veto-wielding member of the council, along with Britain, France, Russia and China. There are currently more than a dozen peacekeeping missions with a total annual budget of more than $7.3-billion (R99-billion).

READ: Around 100 killed in CAR after truce deal

Guterres pledged to make UN peacekeeping more efficient but noted that the current budget to fund it is less than one half of one percent of global military spending.

UN peacekeepers in Central African Republic have also been dogged by allegations of sexual abuse that the world body has been working to address.

"I am pained that some peacekeepers are alleged to have committed egregious acts of sexual exploitation and abuse against the people of the Central African Republic," Guterres said.