BANGUI - France said it would act immediately in Central African Republic after securing UN 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 UN Security Council authorised 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 neighbouring states.
Hundreds of French troops had been pre-positioned in Cameroon, Gabon and Chad, pending the UN approval to help restore order in Central African Republic.