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Published: Thursday January 16, 2014 MYT 11:45:02 AM
Updated: Thursday January 16, 2014 MYT 11:46:03 AM

U.S. to airlift Rwandan forces into Central African Republic

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military will soon begin flying Rwandan troops into the Central African Republic, possibly starting on Thursday, in its second such operation in support the African Union's efforts to stem bloodshed there, a U.S. official said on Wednesday.

The U.S. official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the airlift operation could last just over a month and would involve two U.S. military C-17 aircraft.

The airlift mission would be very similar to the one the United States carried out flying forces from Burundi into the Central African Republic late last year, the official said.

Rwanda's foreign minister has been quoted telling local radio that the country would send around 800 troops.

The U.S. aircraft would fly out of Uganda into Rwanda's capital Kigali, where they would load before proceeding onto Bangui in the Central African Republic, the official said.

A Muslim rebel coalition, Seleka, seized power in Central African Republic last spring, unleashing a wave of killings and looting that in turn sparked revenge attacks by the "anti-balaka" Christian militia.

The United Nations estimates that months of fighting in the landlocked former French colony has displaced around 1 million people, or just over a fifth of the population.

The national death toll is difficult to estimate. More than 1,000 people were killed in Bangui alone last month and sporadic violence has continued despite the presence of 1,600 French troops and 4,000 African Union peacekeepers.

France's U.N. envoy said on Wednesday that the level of hatred in Central African Republic between Muslims and Christians had been underestimated and is creating a "nearly impossible" situation for African Union and French forces to combat.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to submit a report to the Security Council next month with recommendations for a possible U.N. peacekeeping force that would take over from the African troops.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols and Louis Charbonneau in New York; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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