Muslims are being "cleansed" from the west of the Central African Republic and thousands of civilians risk being killed "right before our eyes," the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has said.
Antonio Guterres told a meeting of the UN Security Council on Thursday that thousands of Muslims had fled the country, as violence between Christians and Muslims continued to take its toll.
His comments came as the country's foreign minister and the head of the UN both urged the Security Council to send additional international forces to the crisis-torn country.
"Since early December we have effectively witnessed a cleansing of the majority of the Muslim population in western CAR," Guterres said.
"Tens of thousands of them have left the country, the second refugee outflow of the current crisis, and most of those remaining are under permanent threat."
Toussaint Kongo-Doudou, CAR foreign minister, and Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general, had earlier urged the meeting to sanction a force to boost African and French troops already in the country.
"We would roll out the red carpet for them tomorrow," Kongo-Doudou said on Thursday. "There are no alternatives in terms of survival."
The Security Council met to consider a recommendation from Ban to establish a 12,000-stoing UN force. Diplomats said they expected France to circulate a resolution soon with a view to approving the force by the end of March.
Herve Ladsous, the UN peacekeeping chief, said it would take about six months to organise and deploy, and much of it would include the current intervention force of nearly 6,000 African Union troops by "re-hatting" them.
Philipe Bolopion, of Human Rights Watch, criticised the world body for taking too long to set up the mission.
"The Security Council has wasted too much time," he told the Associated Press news agency. "The UN is clear that despite the French and AU deployments, the human rights situation is still deteriorating.
The CAR, long one of the world's poorest and most unstable countries, plunged deeper into chaos nearly a year ago when the Muslim rebels from the north invaded the capital and overthrew the president of a decade.
The rebels pillaged neighbourhoods, raping and killing people with impunity for months, giving rise to Christian armed groups.
Muslim fighters attempted a coup in early December, and violence between the two communities exploded in the days that followed.
According to the UN, 650,000 people are internally displaced in the CAR due to the conflict, with more than 232,000 in the capital Bangui alone. Nearly 300,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries.