World alarm grew over the Central African Republic on Thursday, when France joined a chorus warning of possible genocide in the mineral-rich but poor country torn by strife since a March coup.
France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius warned that the CAR was "on the verge of genocide", while the United Nations has mooted sending thousands of peacekeepers to the landlocked nation, where unprecedented sectarian bloodshed has erupted.
In parts of the CAR, fighting has broken out between mainly Muslim former rebels who seized power in March and militia groups set up to protect Christian communities, which make up about 80 percent of the population. Both churches and mosques have been razed to the ground.
"It's total disorder," Fabius told France 2 television, adding that the UN was considering authorising African and French troops to intervene. A regional peacekeeping force known as MISMA is currently deployed, but consists of only 2,500 men hampered by a lack of funds, arms and training.
In the latest of a long line of rebellions and coups, the Seleka rebel coalition ousted president Francois Bozize in March and put the CAR's first Muslim leader, President Michel Djotodia, in power.
Djotodia, who has officially disbanded the Seleka coalition and incorporated some of its forces into the army, announced "exceptional measures" on Tuesday to quell conflict, but a statement issued by his office gave no details.
"The president wants to assure the Central African people of his determination to hunt down all criminals, looters, troublemakers, human rights violators and their accomplices," the statement said.
But the transitional government formed in the capital Bangui has little control of the rest of the nation, where armed groups - the remnants of successive rebellions, mutinies and insurgencies - hold sway over a people facing atrocities, food shortages and the collapse of health care.
"You have seven surgeons for a population of five million, an infant mortality rate of 25 percent in some areas and 1.5 million people who have nothing, not even food, and armed gangs, bandits, etc," Fabius said of France's former colony in equatorial Africa.
The UN Security Council plans to vote in early December on a resolution that would allow CAR's neighbours, the African Union and France to intervene in the sprawling nation.
'Seeds of genocide'
Highlighting the "high potential of widespread atrocities", UN leader Ban Ki-moon warned Monday that anarchy in the CAR risks spiralling further out of control and could call for up to 9,000 peacekeepers.
As a goodwill ambassador for the UN Children's Fund, US actress Mia Farrow last week said that "the population is simply completely abandoned" and told reporters that the "seeds of genocide" had been sown.
The US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, called Thursday for international sanctions "on perpetrators of violence", after US Secretary of State John Kerry announced $40 million (30 million euros) to back the MISMA force during an "increasingly sectarian" crisis and "help protect civilians".
Plans are afoot to place MISMA under the aegis of the African Union and bring it up to 3,600 men, but diplomats and military experts warn that this number will be nowhere near enough. The bulk of MISMA is provided by Chad, with troops from Gabon, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea.
Kerry's deputy for African affairs, Robert Jackson, on Tuesday warned that the crisis had devolved into a "pre-genocidal situation."