C.Africa hatred at 'terrifying level': UN rights chief

The UN's rights chief on Thursday expressed horror at the level of violence in the Central African Republic, citing cannibalism, child decapitations and gruesome lynchings.

"The inter-communal hatred remains at a terrifying level," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said at a press conference in Bangui.

"This has become a country where people are not just killed, they are tortured, mutilated, burned and dismembered... Children have been decapitated, and we know of at least four cases where the killers have eaten the flesh of their victims."

The chronically unstable country sank into chaos when rebels who had helped topple president Francois Bozize a year ago went rogue.

The ensuing campaign of killing, raping and looting by the mainly Muslim former rebels prompted members of the Christian majority to form vigilantes known as "anti-balaka" (anti-machete).

France has around 2,000 troops in the country and the African Union three times that number but they have struggled to prevent what the UN has described as ethnic cleansing against the Muslim minority.

Pillay said the military deployment had helped curb large-scale killings of the type witnessed in December and January but warned that much more was needed to pacify the country.

"People continue to be killed on a daily basis, especially by the anti-balaka groups," she said.

The UN rights envoy said foreign peacekeepers and aid workers faced "terrible dilemmas such as choosing between unwillingly aiding the 'cleansing' of trapped Muslim populations, or leaving them -- against their will -- in places where they are in real danger of being slaughtered en masse."

She said around 15,000 Muslims were trapped in little pockets of territory in Bangui and elsewhere in the country, under international protection.

According to figures from the UN and other relief agencies, nearly a quarter of the country's population of 4.6 million has been displaced in more than a year of conflict.