Central African Republic calls for UK to send troops as it falls into civil war
Britain was asked to send soldiers to the Central African Republican today, as the country threatened to slip into civil war.
As more people are killed in the Christian-Muslim violence engulfing the country, a delegation of the two most senior figures from both sides of the divide visited Britain to ask it to commit troops to a UN peacekeeping force.
"The situation in our country has deteriorated in ways that are beyond comprehension," the archbishop of Bangui and the president of the country's Islamic Community wrote in a letter to David Cameron.
"Heinous crimes are being committed by various armed groups, including murder, rape, kidnapping, pillaging, and the destruction of houses.
"Over one million of our people have been displaced by violence and two million require urgent humanitarian assistance."
It went on: "Throughout the years, our people have lived side by side, in harmony. Today, we witness Christians and Muslims turning against one another; committing crimes of unspeakable violence against their own brothers and sisters.
"We fear this will lead to an inter-confessional war unless the international community works together, with the utmost urgency, to restore security and protect civilians throughout the country."
Recent video reports from the country have shown scenes of appalling brutality, as Christians take revenge on Muslims they find on the street for attacks committed since a coup last year.
At least 22 people were killed during an attack on a convoy evacuating Muslims to Cameroon recently, while BBC journalists filmed a mob killing and burning two Muslim men.
Reports emerged of one man eating part of one of his victims and then being congratulated by a crowd, in scenes which led some to worry about an outbreak of religious cleansing.
Thousands have sought shelter in make-shift camps near churches or schools, but they need food, medicine, clean water and security.
Some 1,600 French troops and 4,000 African Union-led troops are already in the country.
The French in particular are having a difficult time convincing Muslim communities they are on their side, given their enthusiastic reception from Christian communities.
Although they insist they are not siding with either group, reporters on the ground suggest it will already be difficult for the French to overturn perceptions.
"We urge the government of the United Kingdom to act in good faith and conscience to address the serious dangers to our country," the letter to Cameron reads.
"In particular we call on the United Kingdom to support EU efforts in a full deployment of EUFOR [an EU rapid reaction force], to support the achievement of long-term peace and security in the Central African Republic by authorising the deployment of a UN-led peacekeeping operation as soon as possible and by supporting our country in the difficult phase that lies ahead.
"We believe that only a strong UN-force can deal adequately with the growing instability and provide the framework for sustainable political and reconciliation processes in our country in the long term."
The violence started when Michel Djotodia's rebel group Seleka overthrew the government last March, making him the country's first Muslim ruler.
The coup triggered a sectarian conflict and Djotodia stepped down on January 11th after failing to stem the violence.
UN estimates put the number of casualties since March at 2,000 and warned the situation remains "extremely volatile and complex".
The delegation delivered the letter to Downing Street this lunchtime.