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A top UN official warned Friday that anarchy in Central African Republic risks becoming "genocide" as armed Christian and Muslim groups battle each other.
The giant but impoverished nation has slid into lawlessness since rebels overthrew President Francois Bozize in March. France has called for a UN peacekeeping force to be deployed and is increasing its own military presence there.
Adama Dieng, a special advisor to UN leader Ban Ki-moon on the prevention of genocide, backed the call for UN peacekeepers to take over from a small African force and for the International Criminal Court to investigate.
"We are seeing armed groups killing people under the guise of their religion and my feeling is that this will end with Christian communities, Muslim communities killing each other," Dieng told reporters after an informal UN Security Council meeting on the crisis.
"If we don't act now and decisively I will not exclude the possibility of a genocide occuring in Central African Republic," he added.
"African forces will not be sufficient," Dieng said. "The country has been totally destroyed. There is total chaos.
"We need to have, definitely, a UN peacekeeping on the ground to help."
Dieng said an independent commission should investigate "atrocity crimes" committed since March and the "ring leaders" should be taken to the ICC.
The UN official said he has spoken to ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and "she is determined to look into the Central African Republic case."
A rebel alliance known as Seleka took over Central African Republic in March. A Seleka leader, Michel Djotodia, named himself president but agreed to hold elections next year. Armed gangs, mainly former Seleka loyalists, now dominate outside the capital Bangui.
Rival self-defense militias are battling the armed gangs in many towns. The African force has about 2,500 troops and is due to increase to 4,500 but diplomats and many officials say it cannot cope with the anarchy.
Brigitte Balipou, a judge in the country, addressed Friday's closed meeting and said after: "We are crying out to the international community so that the Central African Republic does not become a forgotten conflict."
"There is chaos in the country. We cannot work. Only Bangui is secure for the moment."
According to Balipou, the former Seleka fighters are trying "to spread confusion and hate between the Christian and Muslim populations who have lived together for generations."
Central African Republic is now in a "horrendous" crisis, said France's UN envoy Gerard Araud, who organized Friday's meeting with Rwanda.
"The state has collapsed and this country now is simply plundered, looted," he added.
"Women are raped, people are killed by thugs. Really now, the country now has totally fallen into anarchy."
He said many speakers at the closed meeting had used the term "genocide".
Araud said a UN force of between 8,000 and 10,000 troops may be needed but the African force must be given a chance to re-establish order.
Rwanda's UN ambassador, Eugene Richard Gasana, said his country backs sending a UN force and that descriptions of the events reminded him of Rwanda's genocide.
"I had the impression it is like in 1994 at home," Gasana told reporters.
The United Nations is preparing a report on how the African force can be supported and Araud said the UN Security Council could pass a resolution on the Central African Republic crisis this month.