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A senior UN official warned of a possible genocide in the Central African Republic as the country’s National Assembly selected Catherine Samba-Panza to be the next president.
Former President Michel Djotodia stepped down and fled CAR to Benin last week as the country plunged further into sectarian violence.
On Wednesday, Adama Dieng, the UN’s chief special advisor on genocide prevention, warned that CAR was at a “high risk of crimes against humanity and genocide.”
Citing reports of atrocities being committed even against children and entire villages being razed to the ground, Dieng said, “The level of hatred between these communities shocked me”.
He joined a chorus of other UN officials calling for increased deployment of peacekeepers.
Meanwhile, the Red Cross said on Wednesday that it had come across 11 charred bodies that were dumped on the streets of the capital Bangui.
Relief agency Save the Children reported on Sunday that a group armed with machetes and clubs ambushed Muslims fleeing the fighting, and killed 22 people, including three children.
Earlier, the international medical relief group Medecins sans Frontieres said that hospitals were no longer functioning effectively.
Although the international community this week pledged $496 million in humanitarian assistance, the situation in CAR has been rapidly deteriorating.
When Djotodia – a Muslim – announced he was stepping down, Christian militia rejoiced. But what followed was a rampage through the lawless capital.
There were reports of looting and cannibalism as French troops tried to regain control of the security situation.
A month ago, Djotodia called on the Muslim militia, which helped bring him to power, to exercise restraint and lay down their arms after nearly 1,000 people were reported killed in fighting with newly formed Christian militias.
Two leading human rights organisations have also urged the UN to increase the number of armed peacekeeping forces in CAR saying that thousands of people have been killed and injured in the past two weeks.
They both said that crimes against humanity may have been committed, including people hacked to death and entire villages razed to the ground.
Their appeal came amid continued fighting. According to French military sources, peacekeeping soldiers repelled overnight attacks from unidentified armed groups on Tuesday.
But the French presence may not be enough.
In late December, French President Francois Hollande urged his European allies to contribute troops to help stabilise the country. A number of countries are already providing logistical support, but a joint European peacekeeping mission won’t be decided until late January.
In early December, the UN Security Council authorised French troops to use force to quell the violence.
The current crisis in CAR – a mineral rich nation of 4.6 million people – began in December 2012 when Seleka – a rebel amalgamation of several different factions – began to move toward Bangui in hopes of removing then President Francois Bozize, a military officer who seized power in 2003 and has been elected president twice since then.
Analysts say that the rebel gains underscore the instability and extreme poverty that has plagued the country since independence from Paris in 1960 despite possessing vast agricultural, water and mineral resources, including uranium, gold and diamonds. The average monthly income is around $60.
In January 2013, a ceasefire was reached and an UN-sponsored peace process led to the formation of a unity government in which the president was allowed to remain in office till 2016, provided top ministerial positions went to members of the Seleka Coalition.
However, on March 23, the Coalition broke the national unity agreement and seized the capital Bangui. In the fighting, 13 South African peace-keeping soldiers were killed and 27 others wounded during a clash with the rebels. South Africa withdrew its forces.