Seleka fighters roll a joint in the Central African Republic, a nation of 4.6 million people that has been gripped by sectarian violence since mainly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the majority Christian country in March.
Fearing that tit-for-tat killings could escalate into full-blown war between religious communities and destabilise the entire region, world powers are now scrambling into action.
23 Nov 2013. BANGUI, Central African Republic. REUTERS/Joe Penney
A French solider guards a checkpoint at the Mpoko international airport in Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic.
With the country sliding into chaos, the former colonial power plans to boost its force there to around 1,000 troops until a larger African Union contingent fully deploys.
France has repeatedly intervened in Central African Republic since independence in 1960, but it stood by as rebels marched south to topple President Francois Bozize, overrunning South African peacekeepers. France's 400 troops have protected the international airport and French assets.
However, with a 2,500-strong regional African force unable to contain the current violence, France has been spurred into action.
25 Nov 2013. Bossangoa, Central African Republic. REUTERS/Joe Penney
People walk by a cathedral in Bossangoa, where around 40,000 Christians displaced by sectarian turmoil are now living.
In total, some 460,000 people, a tenth of the population, have fled the violence since the Seleka rebel coalition seized power.
Although Seleka was formally disbanded in September by its leader Michel Djotodia, now interim president, they still dominate the streets of Bangui, bristling with machine guns and rocket launchers.
25 Nov 2013. Mbakate, Central African Republic. REUTERS/Joe Penney
Outside the capital, Seleka abuses have given rise to Christian militias known as "anti-balaka" - or anti-machete. These men belong to one such group.
While Seleka's fighters have borne the bulk of the blame for the chaos, Muslim civilians, who represent just 15 percent of the population, say Seleka are their only protection from Christian fighters.
Details remain sketchy of how Paris hopes with 1,000 soldiers to impose order in the nation, roughly the size of France, as confrontations between the two sides have spawned a cycle of attacks and reprisal killings.
But news of French reinforcements, due to soon be approved by the U.N. Security Council, has already spawned hope among many in Bangui, which soldiers will seek to stabilise first.