OTTAWA — Canada is pledging $5 million to support Central African Republic, which is mired in ongoing sectarian violence and bloodshed, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Sunday.
“Canada is a wealthy country. We can participate, we can do our share. And we’re announcing that today,” the minister said in an interview on The West Block with Tom Clark.
Last week alone, more than 600 people were killed in the area as violent clashes between Christian militias and Muslim rebels raged on.
“We are deeply concerned with the sectarian violence,” Baird said. “Religious freedom is one of the cornerstones of our foreign policy.”
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees said the rise in violence, which coincided with the arrival of French troops in the country earlier this month, has forced an additional 159,000 people to flee their homes in the capital. France’s recent deployment brings their total number of troops there to 1,600.
Canada’s $5 million to the country will go to the international fund supporting the African Union-led mission, which is working with the French, Baird said.
“We’ve seen significant casualties already. We’ve seen significant violence, fear, and intimidation,” the minister said. “What we want to do is work constructively with the African Union, with the French and others, to make sure things don’t continually deteriorate.”
READ MORE: UN chief calls for end to CAR ‘bloodshed’
The African Union side of the International Support Mission in the Central African Republic is facing criticism from human rights group Amnesty International for not laying out a “clear plan” as to how it will assist the mission when new troops begin arriving in the area.
The African Union has promised to increase its 2,500-troop contingent to 6,000 soldiers, under the one-year support mission’s mandate. Union forces are to take over for the UN’s Central African Multinational Force, made of soldiers from central African countries, on Dec. 19.
Liberal Senator Romeo Dallaire last week raised concerns about the African Union’s ability to provide assistance, while calling on capable countries to step forward and help stabilize the region.
In his interview Sunday, Baird admonished the Russians for using “provocative rhetoric to raise the temperature” as the two countries try to stake their claim on the North Pole.
Canada last week said it will try to extend its territorial claims in the Arctic to include the North Pole, although it hasn’t yet fully mapped the area, doesn’t have scientific evidence to back the claim and faces major diplomatic hurdles.
WATCH below: One man you would think is safe from politics is Santa Claus. But he’s right in the middle of it as countries, including Canada, battle for ownership of the North Pole.
Canada formally submitted a proposal to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, covering more than one million square kilometres of claims in the Atlantic.
That proposal was preliminary, however, so Canada is sending scientists back to the field to further map a giant undersea mountain range that could hold the key to Canada securing claim to the sea floor to the North Pole.
Speaking to host Tom Clark, a senior counsel at the Russian Embassy in Ottawa said there is potential for Russian military action in the Arctic.
“Of course there are nuclear submarines there,” said Vladimir Lapshin. “It’s natural to protect its potential, but it has nothing to do with the claims and the potential confrontation with other countries.”
For Baird’s part, he said he was confident any decision on who can claim the region will be a diplomatic one.
“Stephen Harper and our government have made Arctic sovereignty a big issue for the last eight years. Obviously, we want to work within the international process, put a submission forward that represents the biggest and most expansive claim we could possibly make,” he said. “At the end of the day, these decisions will be done diplomatically and I have a lot of confidence that countries like Denmark, Canada the United States and others can work cooperatively and come to a decision.”
– With files from The Associated Press, The Canadian Press and Global News’ Nick Logan
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