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Published: Thursday April 10, 2014 MYT 6:00:55 AM
Updated: Thursday April 10, 2014 MYT 6:30:01 AM

Two French soldiers wounded in Central African Republic before U.N. vote

BANGUI (Reuters) - Two French soldiers were wounded in the Central African Republic capital, an army spokesman said on Wednesday, a day before the United Nations Security Council was due to vote on a new peacekeeping force.

Killings have continued between the majority Christian population and increasingly isolated Muslim communities in the landlocked former French colony despite the presence of 2,000 French peacekeepers as well as 6,000 African Union forces.

In a sign of the ongoing difficulty in restoring order, two French soldiers were wounded in the legs when a man threw a grenade at them after he had been asked to disarm, said French Army Captain Sebastien Isern in Banqui.

On the same day, a top U.S. diplomat visited the violence-racked country to pledge support for the interim government and urged outside governments to do more to honour $500 million (298 million pounds) in pledges.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, who met with its interim leader Catherine Samba-Panza, said only 29 percent of the funding had been forthcoming.

"We need to do more and we need to do it now," she said in Bangui on Wednesday via a translator.

The U.N. Security Council is expected to vote unanimously on a resolution to create a nearly 12,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force, due to assume authority from the African troops from mid-September.

But there are concerns about a security vacuum in the coming months following Chad's decision last week to withdraw its 850 troops amid controversy over a series of violent incidents involving its peacekeepers.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a visit to the country at the weekend that peacekeepers were "overwhelmed," and that the international community was at risk of repeating the mistakes of the 1994 Rwanda genocide, where some 800,000 people were butchered.

Rwanda marked 20 years since the genocide in a ceremony this week in the capital. "If we are not careful, we will also have a tragic event such as this to commemorate in a few years," Central African Republic's interim President Catherine Samba-Panza said in a statement earlier this week.

European troops are due to start deploying a long-promised 800-strong force by the end of this month. An EU diplomat said that up to 20 soldiers had already arrived to start preparations.

The country, one of Africa's poorest despite reserves of gold and diamonds, was plunged into chaos when mostly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in March 2013.

Christian militias, known as "anti-balaka," sprang up to ostensibly protect the Christian population after Seleka took to looting and killing, but they now stand accused of human rights abuses as well.

Last month they were branded as "terrorists" by the African Union. Over 2,000 people have been killed since December.

(Reporting by Emmanuel Braun and Crispin Dembassa-Kette; additional reporting by Adrian Croft in Brussels and Michelle Nichols in the United Nations, Writing by Emma Farge, editing by G Crosse)

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