By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council is planning to vote this week on a draft resolution that would urge the United Nations to explore the possibility of establishing a U.N. peacekeeping force in Central African Republic, diplomats said on Tuesday.
The landlocked, mineral-rich Central African Republic, or CAR, has slipped into chaos since northern Seleka rebels seized the capital, Bangui, and ousted President Francois Bozize in March. U.N. officials and rights groups say both sides may have committed war crimes.
Last month French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius warned that CAR risked becoming a new Somalia if it did not get immediate support.
If adopted by the 15-nation Security Council, the resolution would call on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to submit a report within 30 days that would outline possible international support to a planned African Union peacekeeping mission to CAR known as MISCA.
According to the draft, obtained by Reuters, Ban's report should include "detailed options for international support to MISCA, including the possible option of a transformation of MISCA into a United Nations peacekeeping operation, subject to appropriate conditions on the ground."
The resolution would voice serious concern at "violations of international humanitarian law and the widespread human rights violations and abuses, notably by Seleka elements" and would have the council demand "that the Seleka elements and all other armed groups lay down their arms immediately."
The document was drafted by France, CAR's former colonial master. Security Council diplomats said they hoped for a vote on Thursday.
France, which intervened earlier this year to oust Islamist rebels from another of its former colonies, Mali, has been reluctant to get directly involved in the crisis. It has urged African nations and the African Union to do their utmost to resolve the crisis among themselves.
But while the African Union plans to deploy the 3,600-strong MISCA peacekeeping mission in the country, incorporating a regional force of 1,100 soldiers already on the ground, it is unlikely to be operational before 2014.
'NO PEACE TO KEEP'
A report by Human Rights Watch in New York describes what it says was Seleka's deliberate killing of civilians, including women and children, between March and June of this year and its deliberate destruction of more than 1,000 homes.
"Seleka leaders promised a new beginning for the people of the Central African Republic, but instead have carried out large-scale attacks on civilians, looting, and murder," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
Some Western diplomats say the situation in the virtually lawless CAR is too fragile to permit the deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping force for the foreseeable future.
"There's no peace to keep there," a diplomat told Reuters.
U.N. officials and diplomats say CAR is a crisis that has struggled to generate international interest, having been overshadowed by other conflicts such as the Syrian civil war.
The African Union had asked for financial, logistical and technical support from the United Nations, and senior U.N. officials recommended earlier this year that the U.N. Security Council approve this request.
The resolution would also call for increased support for the U.N. Integrated Peacebuilding Office, or BINUCA, allowing it to go beyond CAR's capital Bangui and providing it with rights observers to investigate and report on human rights violations, including sexual violence against women and children.
It also suggests the possibility of taking "appropriate measures" - diplomatic code for sanctions - against those who undermine stability and security in the country.
France has a small force in Bangui securing the airport and its local interests. French diplomatic sources have said Paris would be ready to provide logistical support and increase its troop numbers to between 700 and 750 if needed.
French Foreign Minister Fabius will travel to Bangui on Sunday to assess the situation on the ground, a French diplomatic source said on Tuesday.
Michel Djotodia, who swept to power at the head of CAR's rebellion, was officially sworn in as the country's president earlier this year, but he has failed to contain waves of looting and killing by gunmen.
CAR is rich in gold, diamonds and uranium, but decades of instability and the spillover from conflicts in its larger neighbors have left the country's 4.5 million people mired in cycles of crises.