By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. envoy to the Central African Republic urged the Security Council on Wednesday to consider imposing sanctions on rebels accused of severe rights violations including rape, maiming, recruitment of child soldiers and forced marriages.
Margaret Vogt also told the council that a neutral security force should be deployed to "contain the current state of anarchy" in the mineral-rich state, where the Seleka rebels seized power on March 24, toppling President Francois Bozize.
"The abuses and violations committed by Seleka combatants and other armed elements ... are a source of grave concern for the protection of civilians," she said. "The time is ripe for the council to consider the imposition of individual sanctions against the architects and perpetrators of gross violations."
Rebel leader Michel Djotodia, a former civil servant, has been named interim president by the parliament and charged with leading the chronically unstable country to elections within 18 months.
Vogt said security had disintegrated and that the Central African Republic "has collapsed into a state of anarchy and total disregard for international law, as elements of Seleka turn their vengeance against the population."
"Indiscriminate and often targeted killings, rampant rapes and assault on the innocent population, flagrant recruitment of children as soldiers, looting of homes, not just of the rich but even of already struggling citizens," she said.
She added the country appeared to have become a safe haven for different foreign rebel forces seeking to exploit natural resources like diamonds and gold and that the conflict now posed a direct threat to the security of its neighbors.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expanded on the suggestion of a neutral security force in a report on the Central African Republic, which was the subject of Wednesday's Security Council meeting.
He said regional governments had already raised with U.N. officials the possibility of a U.N. peacekeeping force, but that there were still too many questions to be answered before that could be considered.
"In the meantime, I urge the council to consider short-term measures that could provide some immediate relief," Ban said.
He said that could involve advisory and financing support for a regional African peacekeeping force, MICOPAX, which is already deployed in the Central African Republic, or approving a possible mandate for other forces to play a stabilization role.
There are now about 700 troops in MICOPAX, but Ban said regional leaders had agreed to increase that number to about 2,000. He urged the Central African Republic to accept an offer from South Africa to deploy troops.
Vogt said more than 49,000 refugees had been registered in neighboring countries since December, mainly in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Cameroon and Republic of Congo, while more than 200,000 people had been displaced within the country.
She said more than 800,000 people in the Central African Republic, including 57,000 children under age 5, were at risk of starving and at least 656,000 children had no access to education.
Seleka, a grouping of five rebel movements, launched its insurgency in early December, accusing Bozize of reneging on a 2007 peace deal.
A mix of local rebellions, banditry, ethnic tensions and spillover of conflicts from neighboring Chad, Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo has long undermined efforts to stabilize the Central African Republic, which has suffered from misrule and lawlessness since independence from France in 1960.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Peter Cooney)