AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
From Syria now to turmoil in Central African Republic, or CAR. Earlier this week, its government was toppled and Muslim and Christian militias have been battling ever since. The Obama administration's ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power says this is a pivotal moment for CAR and time for the international community to help prevent further bloodshed.
Power, a former journalist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, is well-known as an advocate for humanitarian intervention. NPR's Michele Kelemen is traveling with her in Nigeria and spoke with Power about the way forward in CAR.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Nigeria is a leading member of the African Union and soon to be a member of the UN Security Council so Samantha Power was eager to get down to business here to talk about ways Nigeria could help speed up the deployment of AU troops to Central African Republic.
AMBASSADOR SAMANTHA POWER: Many countries on the continent are now scrambling to pull forces together so that they can deploy them to ensure that those forces get to the Central African Republic in a timely fashion. President Obama has just authorized up to $100 million in order to support the African Union force on the ground.
KELEMEN: The U.S. has already begun airlifting peacekeepers from Burundi to join the French-led African Union mission in Central African Republic. The U.S. is also providing equipment and training and considering military advisers to help the African troops restore order. While some experts have described the conflict there as pre-genocidal, Ambassador Power calls this an important prevention moment. She spoke to NPR in her cabin on the flight to Nigeria.
POWER: We know from history that in the early phase of conflict, and violence that is motivated by ethnic or religious tension, that there are key moments to change the calculus of individuals on the ground who every day are making decisions about whether they want to take the side of peace or take up arms and begin to target their neighbors. Central African Republic is in one of those periods right now where people are making those choices every day.
KELEMEN: The latest crisis started in March, when Muslim rebels toppled the government and rampaged through villages, burning churches and homes. Christian militias have since committed atrocities against Muslim communities. And the UN estimates that half the population has been affected by the conflict.
A leading aid organization Doctors Without Borders, or MSF, blasted the United Nations recently for failing to respond quickly enough. Sylvain Groulx, who runs the MSF office in Bangui, told NPR by phone that the UN has been too timid.
SYLVAIN GROULX: There was a period of time after the rebel coalition arrived at the doors of Bangui, where for almost six months there was absolutely no UN agencies outside of Bangui. That was deplorable. All during this time while they were evacuated outside the country or held up in their compounds, we continued doing the work.
KELEMEN: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told reporters in New York this week the UN is trying now to ramp up aid efforts.
SECRETARY GENERAL BAN KI-MOON: Because of the very dire and dangerous security situation, it was very difficult in some cases to deliver, and the government is not functioning. There is no such functioning government. This transitional government is not property functioning.
KELEMEN: U.S. officials say they are hopeful that the African troops can open aid corridors to reach hundreds of thousands of people who have been displaced since March. Ambassador Power has spoken with the country's coup leader to urge him to get the country back on the path of reconciliation and on the road to elections.
POWER: Central African Republic is not a place that has seen mass atrocities committed by one religious community against another in the past. There have been some interfaith tensions, but what we have seen in recent months - in the wake of a military takeover of the government - are atrocities that are committed on religious grounds.
KELEMEN: Here in Nigeria, she has many other issues on her plate. She's urging the Nigerians government to respect human rights in its counterterrorism campaign against the radical Islamist group known as Boko Haram.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Abuja.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.