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C. Africa in crisis ‘of epic proportions’: UN chief

The violence-ravaged Central African Republic is caught in “a crisis of epic proportions,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Monday, demanding immediate international action to stem the catastrophe.

“The CAR is in free-fall… We must act together, and act now, to pull CAR back from the brink of further atrocities,” Ban said in a statement read by the acting head of the UN mission in Geneva Michael Moeller.

He was addressing a special session on the violence-torn country before the UN Human Rights Council, gathered to appoint a new independent expert to probe the rights situation in the country.

The session, also set to consider a draft resolution urging international action, came as Central Africa’s transitional parliament was meeting to vote in a new interim leader tasked with restoring peace to the former French colony, where thousands of people have been killed in violence between Christians and Muslims.

Strongman Michel Djotodia stepped aside on January 11 amid intense international pressure over his failure to stem the bloodshed, which the UN has warned could turn into genocide.

“A strong and concerted nationwide effort is essential to stop CAR crossing the tipping-point into an all-out sectarian conflict,” UN human rights chief Navi Pillay told the council in Geneva, also decrying the devastating humanitarian situation in the country.

Central African ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Leopold Ismael Samba, also warned the conflict could escalate into “genocide”.

“And this risk will escalate if nothing is done to reestablish the attributes of the state and help provide the population with a minimum,” he told the council Monday, calling for “a Marshall Plan” to rescue his crisis-ridden country.

A team of UN investigators who spent nearly two weeks in the volatile and impoverished country last month have also reported finding a litany of gross human rights violations, including killings, kidnappings, torture and rape.

“The mission received consistent, credible testimony and photographs supporting allegations that anti-Balaka mutilated Muslim men, women and children, before or after they were killed, including upon the breasts of female victims and genitals of male victims,” Pillay lamented.

The majority Christian country has descended into chaos and sectarian unrest since the mainly Muslim Seleka rebel group overthrew president Francois Bozize and installed Djotodia in his place last March.

More than 1,000 people are believed to have died last month alone with almost one million people driven from their homes, including half of the residents of the capital, Bangui.

Some 2.6 million people, or about half of Central Africa’s population, are in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the UN.

Some 4,400 African troops and 1,600 French soldiers have been deployed to try to restore order.

Pillay on Monday hailed the efforts of the troops, but cautioned that “the disarmament of ex-Seleka carried out by the French forces appears to have left Muslim communities vulnerable to anti-Balaka retaliatory attacks”.

An EU meeting on Monday was expected to approve the deployment of 500 European soldiers to help secure Bangui’s airport.