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EU, France troops pledge over Central Africa violence

The European Union and France pledged to sharply increase troop deployments to the Central African Republic as concern mounted over a horrific spiral of violence across the country.

UNITED NATIONS, United States: The European Union (EU) and France pledged to sharply increase troop deployments to the Central African Republic (CAR) on Friday as concern mounted over a horrific spiral of violence across the country.

Speaking at the United Nations (UN), EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the bloc planned to double a previously agreed deployment of 500 troops.

"I trust that the force will be on the ground very, very soon," she said.

European diplomats said troops from member nations could be deployed to Bangui from next month after EU foreign ministers cleared the nine-month mission earlier this week.

Major EU powers such as Britain and Germany have refused to commit soldiers and diplomats say efforts are focusing on smaller countries.

Diplomatic sources in Brussels said that, besides France, five EU countries had proposed a "substantial" contribution to the mission.

Ashton's disclosure came after former colonial power France said it was sending an additional 400 soldiers to the country, boosting its troop presence under its own flag to 2,000.

"All of the enemies of peace will be fought. There will be impunity for those who commit crimes," France President Francois Hollande's office said in a statement.

Hollande said France would work to "stop the massacres, prevent war crimes and restore public security."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday issued a rallying cry to the Security Council, warning that unchecked atrocities and violence could lead to decades of conflict.

"The dark clouds of mass atrocities and sectarian cleansing loom over the Central African Republic," Ban warned.

"We must act together, we must act decisively and we must act now to prevent the worst," Ban said, warning the country risked a "de facto partition" if the violence continued.

Ban said he was "deeply concerned by the cycle of revenge and reprisals."

"Communities that have no history of violent conflict are on a course that, if left unchecked, could lead to decades of debilitating conflict," he said.

UNICEF said even children were not safe from the country's mounting violence, with 133 killed in the past two months, some of them maimed and beheaded.

The CAR has been descending into chaos since a coup by the Seleka rebel coalition a year ago.

International troops in the CAR have so far failed to halt the violence which, according to Amnesty International, has grown into an "ethnic cleansing" campaign.

The UN refugee agency has described the situation in the resource-rich but poor country as "a humanitarian catastrophe of unspeakable proportions".

And UNICEF said its officials in the region "are horrified by the cruelty and impunity with which children are being killed and mutilated".

"There is no future for a country where adults can viciously target innocent children with impunity," said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF regional director for west and central Africa.

Catherine Samba Panza, the new interim president, has promised to crack down on the "anti-balaka" militias, which began as self-defence groups but are now blamed for most of the country's violence.

The self-proclaimed leader of the militias, Richard Bejouane, warned on Thursday that declaring war on the groups "amounts to declaring war on the Central African population".

The vast country in the heart of Africa is home to about 4.5 million people, has been chronically unstable since gaining independence from France in 1960.

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