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Published: Friday January 17, 2014 MYT 2:30:02 AM
Updated: Friday January 17, 2014 MYT 2:30:51 AM

US starts flying Rwandan forces into Central African Republic

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military on Thursday flew a first detachment of Rwandan soldiers into the Central African Republic to bolster African Union peacekeeping efforts, a Pentagon spokesman said.

Colonel Steve Warren told Reuters that 70 Rwandan troops had been transported. He said the operation would last three weeks and would airlift a total of 800 troops from Rwanda into the former French colony using two C-17 U.S. military aircraft based in Uganda.

The Central African Republic descended into chaos after a mostly Muslim rebel coalition, Seleka, seized power in March, unleashing a wave of killings and looting that sparked revenge attacks by an "anti-balaka" Christian militia.

More than a million people have been displaced by the violence since Seleka installed their leader Michel Djotodia as interim president. More than 1,000 people were killed last month alone in the capital Bangui.

France in December hurriedly deployed roughly 1,600 French troops to help African peace keeping forces.

The U.S. airlift operation moving the additional Rwandan forces would be very similar to the mission the American military carried out last month, moving forces from Burundi into the Central African Republic.

There has been relative calm since Djotodia's resignation under intense international pressure last week, but sporadic violence has persisted in Bangui. Neighboring African states have evacuated more than 30,000 of their citizens.

The commander of French forces, General Francisco Soriano, told a video conference in Paris on Thursday that the security situation was improving but remained "extremely complicated and very volatile".

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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