EDITH M. LEDERER
UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution Thursday to help end violence in the Central African Republic, which it said is threatening stability in the volatile region and beyond.
The resolution backs a new African Union peacekeeping force in the country and demands swift implementation of a political transition leading to free and fair elections in less than 18 months.
"Today is the ... beginning of a different future," Central African Republic's U.N. Ambassador Charles Armel Doubane said after the vote. "We have to give a chance to secure peace."
One of the world's poorest countries with a long history of chaos and coups, Central African Republic has been in turmoil since a coalition of rebel groups joined forces to overthrow the president in March and put their leader in charge. Since seizing power, the rebels have been accused by human rights groups of committing scores of atrocities, of widespread looting, killings, rapes and conscription of child soldiers.
The resolution expresses the council's readiness to consider "appropriate measures" -- diplomatic language for sanctions -- against those who undermine peace, stability and security, impede the political transition and fuel violence.
It notes the council's intention to consider options to support the AU force, which was established in July, and asks U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to submit detailed proposals in 30 days, including the possibility of transforming it into a U.N. peacekeeping operation.
France's U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud called the resolution "an important first step," saying the Central African Republic's crisis, though a terrible tragedy, "unfortunately ... is largely ignored."
He said he expects the council to adopt another resolution in mid-November "deciding effectively the support that we will provide."
The AU force has about 1,900 troops mainly from neighboring countries and is supposed to eventually include 3,600 troops.
Central African Republic borders some of the most tumultuous countries on the continent including Congo and Sudan and some diplomats have expressed concern that even at full strength the AU force would not be large enough to deploy beyond key cities to rural areas where there is also great instability.
French President Francois Hollande, at the opening of last month's ministerial meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, raised an "alarm" about Central African Republic, saying "chaos has now taken hold there and once again, civilians are its victims."
The resolution reiterates the council's condemnation of the seizure of power by the rebel Seleka coalition, condemns the devastation of the country's natural heritage, and notes "that poaching and trafficking of wildlife are among the factors that fuel the crisis in CAR."
The resolution demands that Seleka elements and all other armed groups "lay down their arms immediately" and it urges them to participate in disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programs. It also demands that all parties in CAR, especially Seleka, "ensure safe and unhindered access and the timely delivery of humanitarian aid to persons in need."
The resolution also broadens the mandate of the U.N. office in Central African Republic promoting peace efforts to including supporting the political transition, assisting in elections and monitoring and helping investigate human rights abuses. It would also support the stabilization of the security situation by advising on reforms of the security sector, police and judiciary and the demobilization of combatants.
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