The UN Security Council will vote Today on a measure authorizing thousands of African and French troops to end anarchy in the Central African Republic, where massacres have led to warnings of genocide-style strife.
As the council prepared for the vote, shots rang out early Thursday and blasts from heavy weapons rocked several districts of the Central African capital.
The automatic gunfire whose origin was not immediately clear started around 5:30 am (0430 GMT) in the north of Bangui and then spread to other neighbourhoods not far from the city centre.
The UN resolution, which envoys say is certain to be passed unanimously, also orders an arms embargo against the huge, impoverished nation where chaos has reigned since rebels forced the president to flee in March.
Muslim and Christian groups are fighting each other and tens of thousands of people have taken refuge in churches and mosques fearing sectarian attacks, according to aid workers.
The draft resolution highlights the “total breakdown in law and order” in the state which, it adds, risks “degenerating into a countrywide religious and ethnic divide, with the potential to spiral into an uncontrollable situation.”
The council will give an African force a 12-month mandate to restore order in the former French colony. French troops will have permission to use “all necessary measures” to support the African contingent.
There are about 2,500 troops in the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA) that will eventually reach 3,600 and on December 19 become an African Union force.
France has 600 troops there and plans to increase this to 1,200.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told BFMTV that “around 1,200” soldiers would be deployed, adding the aim of the intervention is “to avoid appalling humanitarian tragedies and to restore security.”
“Then it will be to facilitate a democratic transition because elections will need to be organised”, he added.
But United Nations leader Ban Ki-moon has warned that up to 9,000 troops could be needed if the crisis blows up and a full UN force has to take over.
Violence has worsened in the country of 4.6 million people since the Seleka coalition of rebels forces deposed president Francois Bozize in March.