NEW YORK (AP) — Diplomats from the U.S., the European Union and the United Nations sought Wednesday to pull the collapsing Central African Republic under the international spotlight, calling the security crisis in the poor, landlocked country "in one word, desperate."
The meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly included U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power, who attendees said noted how the recent violence in Kenya was the result of years-long neglect of the crisis in neighboring Somalia.
Central African Republic borders some of the most tumultuous countries on the continent, and some fear the state of near-anarchy will allow rebels and other armed groups to flourish there. "Today, we have the choice of stopping the (Central African Republic) from turning into another Somalia," said Kristalina Georgieva, the EU commissioner responsible for humanitarian aid. She called it a "forgotten crisis" and said the country is collapsing outside the capital, Bangui.
The meeting followed a call from French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday for the U.N. Security Council to support a plan to authorize logistical and financial support for the African Union peacekeeping force in Central African Republic.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Wednesday said the country's situation threatens regional peace and security as a "gray zone, a stateless zone, a zone without backbone." The force is expected to eventually include up to 3,500 troops, though critics question whether that is sufficient to address the violence not only in the capital but in the country's distant provinces where massacres have been reported in recent weeks.
The country — nestled among neighbors that include Congo, Chad and Sudan — has a long history of chaos and coups. In March, a coalition of rebel groups joined forces to overthrow the president and put their leader in charge. The rebels have been blamed for abuses including widespread looting, killings, rapes and conscription of child soldiers.
The diplomats emerged Wednesday with "very clear commitments" to the urgency of building up the force, plus financial commitments including 10 million euros from France, Georgieva told reporters. She mentioned a commitment from the U.S. as well but did not specify how much.
"I don't doubt that the meeting today represents a turning point in the future of my country," said Nicolas Tiangaye, a longtime opposition leader who is still serving as prime minister under rebel leader-turned-president Michel Djotodia. "There was a moment where we thought we were forgotten by the entire world."
Central African Republic was already one of the world's poorest countries before the coup, and life expectancy was a mere 48 years. Georgieva said it is now estimated by some to be only 45 years. A child born today has just a one-in-five chance of living to age 5, she added.
Georgieva, who visited Central African Republic in July, also said inter-religious violence appears to be rising in the country, which has a large number of Christians in the south and a more Muslim presence in the arid north.
The United Nations has estimated there are 225,000 people displaced within Central African Republic, and nearly 63,000 new refugees have fled to neighboring countries.
Associated Press writer Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed to this report.