UN chief pleads for religious harmony in C. Africa

UN chief Ban Ki-moon urged Christians and Muslims in the Central African Republic not to succumb to hate and vengeance in a radio message Friday to a country that has seen a surge in sectarian violence.

"I appeal to everyone to follow the path of peace," the secretary general said. "Do not allow the voices of hatred to sow division where none existed before.

"Whatever your faith or background, you share the same history and the same future," he added.

"The bloodshed must stop," he said. "I call on religious and community leaders -- Muslim and Christian -- to act as messengers for peace."

Ban also asked "the transitional authorities to protect people and prevent further conflict."

For those "who would commit atrocities and crimes against humanity," he warned: "The world is watching. You will be held to account."

And he assured Central Africans that the United Nations "is committed to helping your country recover from this crisis."

"You are not alone and we will not abandon you," he said, pointing to African and French troops working to restore order and to the UN's humanitarian efforts in the country.

"We will stand by your side to build lasting peace and a better future for all," Ban pledged.

UNHCR, the UN's refugee agency, has said more than 600 people have been killed in violence in the Central African Republic in the past week, including 450 in the capital, Bangui, and 160 in other parts of the country.

It said the death toll was likely to rise as new bodies were found.