There is growing concern about a humanitarian disaster in the Central African Republic, as fighting between Muslims and Christian becomes increasingly violent.

The former French colony has been rocked by unrest since March, when a Muslim rebel alliance known as Seleka seized power and overthrew Francois Bozize, the country's Christian president since 2003. There have also been an increasing number of attacks by a group called Anti-Balaka, which is fighting the Seleka rebels.

The growing sectarian unrest has prompted French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius to warn that CAR is on the "verge of a genocide."

A history of upheavals

The CAR – one of Africa's poorest countries -- has endured several coups in the years of instability since its independence from France in 1960.

The recent rebellion is just the latest in a serious of upheavals in the country.

Since taking power, the Seleka rebels and their allies from neighbouring Chad and Sudan have plunged the country into a state of near-anarchy.

They have been accused by human rights groups of committing scores of atrocities, including widespread looting, killings, rapes and recruiting child soldiers.

Christian militia

Anger over the Seleka attacks has prompted vicious reprisals on Muslim civilians in other parts of the country.

A new rebel group known as the Anti-Balakas, which translates to anti-machete, descended on the capital this week in a co-ordinated attack on several prominently Muslim neighbourhoods. The attack left nearly 100 people dead and sparked fears amongst Christians of reprisal attacks.

Thousands of Christian civilians have since taken refuge at an airport guarded by French soldiers.

France's response

French President Francois Hollande said Saturday his country is upping the number of troops deployed in the CAR to 1,600 -- 400 more than initially planned. He said the deployment would remain as long as necessary for its mission to help stabilize the country.

Following a two-day Africa-France summit, Hollande vowed to provide both logistical and material support to build a pan-African military force that would intervene in regional conflicts.

'Forgotten' crisis returns

The United Nations has described the situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) as a "forgotten" crisis that has recently forced its way back into the headlines.

UN envoy Margaret Vogt said earlier this year the CAR is a place where “the elites fight, they launch coup d’états, they launch rebellions, but the people get trapped.”
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon referred recently to the situation in the country as one of those crises that unfold far from the spotlight – “an occasional blip” on the world’s radar screen.

In a speech in early March, Ban expressed frustration that months after the launch of a $129 million funding appeal to relieve suffering in the CAR, “not one penny” had been received.

With files from The Associated Press