A United Nations human rights body rebuked France on Friday for its crackdown on Roma and urged the government to try to integrate members of the EU's biggest ethnic minority rather than send them to eastern Europe.

The 18 independent experts voiced concern that some of the hundreds of Roma flown to Romania in recent weeks under what France calls a voluntary repatriation programme had not been fully informed of their rights or freely consented.

The experts, who form the U.N. Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination known as CERD, also urged Sarkozy's centre-right government to combat what they called a worrying rise in racist and xenophobic discourse by some politicians.

The Committee is concerned about the increase in incidents and violence of a racist nature against Roma on the territory of the State Party (France), it said in a statement.

Under the French clampdown, Roma who agree to leave the country receive 300 euros and an additional 100 euros for each of their children. Some 8,000 have been expelled so far this year, including 300 on planes departing from Paris and Lyon on Thursday.

But the committee said it had received information that in recent weeks Roma had been sent home collectively to their home countries without the free, complete and informed consent of all the individuals concerned.

The experts stopped short of calling on France to halt the scheme but urged it to avoid... the collective repatriations and to seek durable solutions to settle issues related to Roma on the basis of full respect of their human rights.

In particular, they urged France to guarantee Roma access to education, health care, housing and other temporary facilities in line with the principle of equality.

The committee's conclusions were issued after examining France's compliance with an international treaty prohibiting barriers based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin that contravene political, economic or social rights.

France is among 173 countries to have ratified the 1969 pact. Its delegation told the committee that it was fighting racial discrimination through its legal arsenal and a determined policy of integration.

We believe that to fight discrimination against Roma, it is indispensable to address the causes of the problem, that is to say the failure to integrate these populations in their home countries, France's delegate Jacques Pellet told the committee on August 10.

Campsites have been dismantled and in some cases bulldozed away on orders from Sarkozy, whose tough law-and-order rhetoric helped sweep him to power in 2007.

Opposition parties in France have accused him of targeting the Roma and other immigrants in a crime crackdown with the goal of boosting his record-low popularity ratings before the next election in 2012. Polls have shown that a solid portion of the French population support the crackdown.

The committee urged the government to show greater understanding of and tolerance towards racial or ethnic groups whom it said were victims of stereotyping and discrimination.

France should intensify its efforts using all means, notably by firmly condemning all racist or xenophobic discourse by politicians and taking appropriate measures to combat the proliferation of racist acts or manifestations on the Internet.

It specifically asked France to report back in exactly one year on the progress it makes in implementing the recommendations so as to bring it in line with the treaty.

(Editing by Noah Barkin)