Central African leaders urge boost for CAR peacekeepers

A United Nations Operation in Central African Republic (MINUSCA) military convoy is pictured on November 25, 2015 in Bangui (AFP Photo/Gianluigi Guercia)

Libreville (AFP) - Leaders from central African countries on Wednesday urged the UN to boost the mandate of its peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic to help stabilise a nation plagued by violence.

Meeting in Gabon's capital Libreville, heads of state and government from the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) said they would request action from the UN Security Council to strengthen the 12,000-member MINUSCA force in CAR.

This would allow the force "to respond to security challenges in a stronger and more efficient way," the leaders said in a final statement from the summit, without giving further details.

Pope Francis is set to visit the chronically unstable CAR on Sunday and Monday as part of a landmark first trip to Africa that he kicked off on Wednesday.

The UN announced last week it would send 300 extra Senegalese troops to the CAR to beef up security ahead of first-round elections scheduled December 27.

The UN is also planning to send 750 troops from Egypt and 140 police from Mauritania to reinforce MINUSCA.

The elections are shaping up as a major test of CAR's progress in its political transition after bloodletting between Christians and Muslims following a coup in 2013.

The country descended into chaos following the coup against longtime leader Francois Bozize, with Christian anti-balaka militias battling Muslim Seleka rebels.

Clashes persist between the two communities in a nation awash with weapons.

A referendum on a proposed new constitution is set for December 13 in what is widely seen as a dress rehearsal for the elections.

Given the difficulties of organising polling in a country wracked by violence, it is possible that the elections could be pushed back until early 2016.

CEEAC leaders expressed hope that the new government could be in place by April 2016.