US warns of genocide risk in Central Africa

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US officials on Tuesday warned against rising violence in the Central African Republic, voicing alarm that the country could be heading towards a genocide.

Rebels overthrew the Central African Republic's (CAR) president in March but a transitional government has lost all grip on the huge but impoverished country of 4.5 million people with retaliatory attacks between Muslims and Christians.

"I do not believe we are in a genocidal situation. We are in a pre-genocidal situation," deputy assistant secretary for Africa Robert Jackson told US lawmakers.

"We have begun to discuss with the UN and partners of the possibility of sanctions. We do not currently have enough information to apply sanctions to any individuals ... but it is something under consideration," Mr Jackson told the House foreign affairs committee.

He added that the United States did not support setting up a full UN peacekeeping mission, but believed that the current force put in place by the African Union, known as MISCA, should "provide the immediate security that CAR needs first and foremost."

UN leader Ban Ki Moon warned on Monday that anarchy in the Central African Republic risks spiraling further out of control and could need up to 9,000 peacekeepers.

Violence is worsening in the resource-rich country where a coalition of rebels, known as Seleka, forced President Francois Bozize to flee in March.

"At this time we do not support the creation of a UN peacekeeping mission because we think it would take many months to put in place," Mr Jackson said, adding MISCA was "the best mechanism for quickly addressing the ongoing violence." He confirmed however that there were some US military advisors in the country, solely to help Ugandan troops track down wanted warlord Joseph Kony.

"We do have US troops in the Central African Republic acting as advisors and their only mission is to combat the Lord Resistance Army and to support the AU primarily Ugandan mission to ... find Joseph Kony."