UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council on Thursday called on Muslim and Christian factions battling in Central African Republic to immediately implement a cease-fire agreement they signed this week.
A press statement approved by all 15 council members welcomed Wednesday's signing in neighboring Republic of Congo but stressed that the agreement is only "a first step" to ensure "durable peace, respect for human rights, protection of civilians and the rule of law."
Central African Republic has been in turmoil since an alliance of Muslim rebel groups known as the Seleka overthrew the longtime president in March 2013. They quickly became despised by Christians in the capital after Muslim fighters went on looting sprees, raping and killing civilians at random.
An armed Christian movement known as the anti-Balaka, aided by the ex-president's loyalists, retaliated. Thousands have been killed since the political crisis deepened in December and ignited unprecedented sectarian bloodshed.
The sectarian fighting has led much of the Muslim population to flee to the north or neighboring countries. The Security Council stressed "the paramount importance of preserving the unity and territorial integrity" of the Central African Republic.
The council also reiterated its call on the country's weak transitional government to accelerate preparations for national elections by February, although violence is still raging.
Sylvain Groulx, the outgoing head of Doctors Without Borders' mission in the country, told a U.N. news conference that the disaster he witnessed over the past two years "is only worsening."
A mortality study by the medical aid organization showed "catastrophic levels of mortality" among some Muslim communities, due mainly to targeted violence against them, he said.
Groulx said the study involved more than 3,400 families, representing 32,768 people, who fled the violence in Central African Republic and are now in a refugee settlement in Chad. It found that more than 33 percent of the families had lost at least one family member between November and April, the vast majority killed by gunshot, machete, grenade or other blast wounds, he said.