France raised alarm on Friday over worsening violence in the Central African Republic (CAR), as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged warring Christians and Muslims to stop the bloodshed that has left more than 600 dead in the past week.
As French and African troops struggle to restore security in the strife-torn nation, Ban warned that those committing atrocities would be “held to account.”
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that more than 600 people had been killed in the violence in CAR in the past week, including 450 in Bangui and 160 in other parts of the country.
Warning of a further deterioration in the situation, the agency said the death toll was likely to rise as new bodies were found.
French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves le Drian also warned of rising violence as he met some of the 1,600 French troops deployed in Bangui.
“The spiral of confrontation has abruptly worsened,” Le Drian said, also warning of “the early beginnings of a humanitarian crisis.”
A week after France sent troops into its former colony to bolster an African peacekeeping force, bands of armed thugs continue to roam the streets, and heavy bursts of gunfire still ring out intermittently.
The majority Christian and chronically unstable nation was plunged into chaos after a March coup by mostly Muslim rebels ousted former CAR president Francois Bozize.
Some members of the Seleka rebel group went rogue, spreading terror that government forces could not stop. Months of massacres, rapes and looting followed, with locals forming Christian vigilante groups in response.
The UNHCR said that 27 Muslims had been killed by militia in one village and raised concerns about “retaliatory attacks between Christians and Muslim communities.”
“We are alarmed at the increasing tensions among religious communities,” UNHCR spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said. “The bloodshed must stop.”
Ban urged religious and community leaders to act as messengers of peace to help end the violence tearing apart communities who have long lived together in peace.
“Do not allow the voices of hatred to sow division where none existed before,” he said in a radio message.
“Whatever your faith or background, you share the same history and the same future,” he added. “The bloodshed must stop.”
As concerns rise about an increasingly desperate humanitarian situation, Ban assured the country the UN “is committed to helping your country recover from this crisis.”
“You are not alone and we will not abandon you,” he said.
UNHCR said the violence had forced nearly 160,000 residents of Bangui from their homes in the past week. They were spread over some 40 sites, including in camps, churches and mosques.