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UN chief wants 900 extra peacekeepers in C. Africa

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, seen here speaking before the UN Security Council September 28, says South Sudan apologized for an incident in which the commander of a UN peacekeeping convoy was stopped and beaten by government security forces

Warning of a risk of ethnic cleansing, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday urged the Security Council to beef up the peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic with 900 extra troops.

In a report to the council, Guterres said the 12,000-strong MINUSCA mission had reached its limit and was struggling to cope with the worsening violence in the impoverished African country.

"Since late 2016, the security situation progressively deteriorated outside Bangui, with growing sectarian violence and a heightened risk of ethnic cleansing in parts of the country," Guterres said in the report, which was obtained by AFP.

"I therefore recommend an increase of 900 military personnel," including two infantry companies and a battalion to be deployed in the east and center of the country, he said.

The UN chief will pay his first visit to the Central African Republic later this month as the country struggles to overcome the sectarian violence that exploded after the 2013 overthrow of longtime leader Francois Bozize by the mainly Muslim Seleka alliance.

France intervened militarily to push out the Seleka alliance but the country remains plagued with violence.

More than 600,00 people have been driven from their homes within the country and an additional 500,000 have crossed borders to become refugees. Half of the population, or 2.4 million Central Africans, are in need of aid.

The Security Council is to decide next month on renewing MINUSCA's mandate as the United States, the biggest financial contributor to UN peacekeeping, is pushing for cost-cutting measures.

In his report, Guterres said the extra troops will not realistically allow MINUSCA to protect all civilians, but will give the force greater flexibility to deploy quickly to areas where civilians come under threat.

The 900 troops will allow the force "to shape and influence security situations, rather than react to them," he argued.