There is a real danger of further upheaval along religious lines in the Central African Republic (CAR), Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today warned a regional gathering in Chad, stressing that the past year's events have profoundly damaged the relationship between Muslim and Christian communities and pose a long-term danger to the country.
"The horrific cycle of violence and retaliation between communities must stop immediately," Mr. Ban said in his message to the extraordinary summit of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), hosted by Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno in the capital, N'Djamena.
"Distrust is high and violence has fuelled anger and a thirst for revenge," he added, highlighting the need to prioritize reconciliation efforts.
In the message, delivered by Babacar Gaye, Special Representative in the country and the head of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office (BINUCA), Mr. Ban commended the ECCAS Heads of State for proposing an inclusive national conference.
Such a forum should provide all national actors with the opportunity "to share their concerns, agree on common challenges, and collectively find a way out of this crisis", including through the preparation of elections, he said.
Disarmament of combatants in accordance with international standards is essential, the UN chief stressed, noting also the importance of demobilization and reintegration of the former fighters.
Armed attacks between ex-Séléka and Christian anti-balaka militias have escalated significantly in the past two weeks, despite the creation of a transitional government following the attack a year ago by mostly Muslim Séléka rebels which forced President François Bozizé to flee.
Since then, thousands of people are estimated to have been killed, nearly 1 million driven from their homes, and 2.2 million, about half the population, need humanitarian aid.
The UN and its partners have stepped up the humanitarian response but the situation remains "extremely troubling", Mr. Ban said in today's message.
He also expressed concern about "widespread human rights abuses". The UN is working to establish an International Commission of Inquiry to document the violations, in line with a resolution adopted by the Security Council in early December.
"Together, we must send a strong message that those committing atrocities will be held accountable," he said.
In his message, Mr. Ban noted the quick deployment of the African-led International Support Mission to CAR (MISCA) and the French intervention force, SANGARIS, whose work "prevented the situation from degenerating even further".
He also noted that the UN will work closely with the African Union and other stakeholders in support of the upcoming donors conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 1 February.