Two top U.S. diplomatic officials are flying to the war-torn Central African Republic this morning, marking the highest-level U.S. visit there since the country devolved into chaos that has left hundreds dead in the past weeks.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield are slated to land in the Central African Republic (CAR) capital of Bangui at 3 a.m. ET, 9 a.m. local, Power told reporters on Tuesday, noting that the people of CAR "are in profound danger."
The two will meet with government and religious leaders to press for peace and security as international troops confront an alarming situation, with Muslim and Christian militias engaged in widespread religious reprisal killings.
"President Obama, Secretary [of State John] Kerry and I have all been deeply disturbed by reports of ongoing brutality in the Central African Republic," Power told reporters on a conference call Tuesday. Media outlets agreed not to publish her comments until her scheduled landing in the country.
"Mobs have been going door to door," Power said. "Urgent action is required to save lives."
Last week alone, over 600 people were killed across CAR and 159,000 driven from their homes in Bangui, the United Nations office of the high commissioner for human rights said on Friday.
"The situation in the Central African Republic is both desperate and extremely dynamic and volatile," Power said. "My government is thankful to the French and the brave African troops for putting their lives at risk."
Power spoke by phone with transitional president Michel Djotodia on Dec. 8. Djotodia has said he cannot control the rebels that helped usher him into power earlier this year.
In March, largely Muslim rebels known as the Seleka seized Bangui, and rebel leader Djotodia dissolved the constitution and became transitional president. Responding to religious violence perpetrated by ex-Seleka fighters, Christian communities formed "anti-balaka," or "anti-machete," militias, and religious reprisal killings ensued, with Christian and Muslim communities both driven into hiding by militias. Of CAR's 4.6 million population-half of whom are children, according to the U.N. - about 10 percent have been displaced.
Human rights violations have been widespread. A Nov. 15 United Nations report cited "summary executions, sexual and gender-based violence, torture, illegal arrests and detentions, looting of property, illegal checkpoints and extortion." Sexual violence against women and girls has gone on "with absolute impunity," U.N. reported.
International troops are seeking to disarm rebels and restore order. This month, the United Nations Security Council authorized 1,500 French troops and 3,600 African Union troops to confront and disarm rebels. The African force will be expanded to 6,000, meaning a total of 7,500 international troops will be in CAR. The U.S. military has helped deploy African troops, flying C-130 transport planes to and from Burundi to move soldiers into CAR.
The U.S. has authorized $100 million to support the international forces with supplies and trucks. On Dec. 10, President Obama augmented an initial $40 million with $60 million in added Department of Defense funds. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has given a total of $24.6 million in humanitarian assistance.