UN alarmed at Central African Republic violence against civilians

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon is alarmed at the rapidly deteriorating security situation in the Central African Republic and is strongly condemning violence against civilians by rebels who overthrew the government three weeks ago, the United Nations(UN) said on Tuesday.

The UN chief is particularly concerned about reports of clashes between the rebel Seleka movement and people in the capital Bangui that have resulted in the deaths of many civilians, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

Rebel leader Michel Djotodia is now president of a transitional council that plans for elections within 18 months, though critics say his government lacks control over its fighters in the streets.

The rebels' ouster of President Francois Bozize came two months after they signed a peace agreement in Libreville, Gabon, that would have let him serve until 2016.

Ban urged the "de facto authorities" to restore law and order throughout the country and ensure the protection of civilians, Nesirky said.

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay urged action to address "the extremely worrying" situation on the ground.

"The current state of lawlessness, verging on anarchy, must not be allowed to continue," Pillay said in a statement.

"The rule of law must be restored and perpetrators of abuses held accountable."

The Secretary-General and the human rights chief expressed serious concern at the grave rights violations across the country including killings, rapes, indiscriminate shelling and recruitment of child soldiers as well as the deteriorating humanitarian situation.

They said perpetrators must be held individually accountable.

Since the Seleka rebel coalition launched an offensive in December, Pillay said, 1.2 million people have been cut off from essential services and human rights violations have been widespread.

At least 4.1 million people, almost half of whom are children, have been directly affected by the crisis and more than 37,000 people have fled the country in the past four months due to the violence, she said.

Over the weekend, Pillay said, more than 20 people were killed in Bangui alone, and the local Red Cross reported that at least 119 people have been killed since Bozize was ousted from power on March 24.

"We have also received reports of 19 cases of sexual violence against women and girls in the town of Berberati as well as three in Bangui" which is most likely "a serious underestimate," she said.

"Given the state of widespread insecurity, the absence of a reliable and functioning police force and justice system and the fear of harassment and stigma, many victims are believed to be unable or too afraid to report such abuses," Pillay said.

She said various groups have been accused of extortion and looting private and public property including hospitals and health care facilities as well as humanitarian aid agency offices and warehouses which is having "a devastating impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians."

Ban welcomed efforts of the regional Economic Community of Central African States and the African Union to bring about peace in the Central African Republic and called on both organizations "to take immediate and urgent measures to address the gravity of the security situation with the assistance of the international community."

Ban and Pillay stressed that the Libreville agreements should be the basis for a political settlement to end the crisis.

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