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Central African Republic

EU approves military mission to Central African Republic as new interim leader chosen

The EU has approved sending soldiers to the Central African Republic. The country, which has been gripped by sectarian violence and political instability since last year, has meanwhile chosen a new interim leader.

EU foreign ministers approved a military mission to the Central African Republic (CAR) during a meeting in Brussels on Monday.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has said the size of the force being considered was just 500. Initial reports had estimated that the EU would deploy up to 1,000 troops to the region.

It was not immediately clear which nations from the 28-member bloc would send troops.

Germany reiterated its support for the plan, but maintained it would not send soldiers to CAR. On Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesperson, Steffen Seibert, told reporters in Berlin that it remained unclear what form of assistance Germany would provide to the EU-backed mission.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeir has stressed that the EU's decision to commit troops did not mean it was "the beginning of a big engagement in Africa after Afghanistan."

Last month, France contributed 1,600 soldiers to a 4,000-strong African Union mission on the ground tasked with maintaining order in CAR. France had been urging its allies to provide aid since December when sectarian clashes linked to political instability in the country escalated and unleashed a humanitarian crisis.

The proposed EU mission now awaits ratification by the UN Security Council.

New interim leader

The news came shortly before the country's 129-member National Transitional Council (CNT) chose the mayor of Bangui, Catherine Samba-Panza, as the new interim president. She replaces Michel Djotodia, who stepped down on January 10 under intense international pressure after faling to halt inter-religious violence in CAR.

Samba-Panza, chosen in a second-round runoff, will be tasked with overseeing the government until democratic elections can be held.

Djotodia - CAR's first Muslim president - rose to power last March with the help of the Islamist Seleka rebel group, which had led a coup against the government. By the fall, Djotodia attempted to ban the rebel faction. The country experienced renewed violence after Christian groups began carrying out retaliatory attacks against Seleka militants.

Donors to give more aid

The EU Humanitarian Aid Commission also announced on Monday that CAR would receive roughly 678 million euros ($500 million).

"Today's meeting put an end to the Central African Republic being an aid orphan forever," the humanitarian aid commissioner, Kristalina Georgieva, said.

According to UN figures, nearly 1 million people have been displaced by the conflict. In the capital, Bangui, half of the population - some 350,000 people - has been displaced. An estimated 100,000 people have crowded into a camp near the airport outside of the capital city.

tj,kms/mkg (AFP, Reuters, epd)

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