By Tom Miles and Paul-Marin Ngoupana
GENEVA/BANGUI (Reuters) - A senior U.N. official warned on Thursday of the risk of genocide in Central African Republic without a more robust international response to communal bloodshed in which at least eight more people were killed overnight.
The former French colony descended into chaos after a mostly Muslim rebel coalition, Seleka, seized power in March, unleashing a wave of killings and looting that sparked revenge attacks by an "anti-balaka" Christian militia.
More than a million people have been displaced by the violence since Seleka installed their leader Michel Djotodia as interim president. More than a thousand people were killed last month alone in the capital Bangui.
There has been relative calm since Djotodia's resignation under intense international pressure last week, but sporadic violence has persisted in Bangui. Neighboring African states have evacuated more than 30,000 of their citizens.
"It has all the elements that we have seen elsewhere, in places like Rwanda and Bosnia," John Ging, director of operations for the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told a news conference in Geneva.
"The elements are there, the seeds are there, for a genocide," he said after a five-day trip to the country.
Ging said the crisis was foreseeable and avoidable but an outgrowth of international neglect over many years.
France's U.N. envoy said on Wednesday that the level of hatred between Muslims and Christians had been underestimated and was making it "nearly impossible" to halt the violence.
France in December hurriedly deployed roughly 1,600 French troops to help African peacekeeping forces. The arrival of Rwandan forces aboard a U.S. military aircraft on Thursday increased the African Union contingent to around 5,000 troops.
Many say the bloodshed has little to do with religion, in a nation where Muslims and Christians long lived in peace. Instead, they blame a political battle for control over natural resources in one of Africa's weakest states, split along ethnic lines and worsened by foreign meddling.
Eight people were killed in Bangui late on Wednesday, witnesses said. On Thursday, hundreds of angry residents surrounded a convoy of Chadian Muslims fleeing the country. They shouted "go home" and "assassins".
Some in the crowd attempted to loot and set fire to one vehicle but were prevented by African Union peacekeepers, who fired warning shots to disperse them.
The commander of French forces, General Francisco Soriano, told a video conference in Paris on Thursday that the security situation was improving but remained "extremely complicated and very volatile."
Central African Republic is designated by the United Nations as one of the top three humanitarian emergencies, along with Syria and the Philippines. But a U.N. appeal has received only 6 percent of a $247 million target, which OCHA's Ging said aimed to meet only the most basic life-saving needs.
Ging said the country amounted to little more than a territory on a map, without state infrastructure and functioning security forces. He said French and African peacekeepers were having a positive effect but were stretched to their limits.
"Central African Republic has to move up the priority list," he said. "However desperate and alarming the situation might be right now, it can be turned around very quickly."
A U.N. human rights spokesman said this week intercommunal violence had risen to "extraordinary vicious levels". Ging said it was incorrect to talk of intercommunal violence, though a violent minority was intent on inciting a wider conflict.
"When you talk to ordinary people you don't hear voices for hatred, you don't hear voices for violence. We hear very clearly people who are in fear but who want peace."
(Additional reporting by Paul-Marin Ngoupana and Emmanuel Braun in Bangui; John Irish in Paris; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by MarK Heinrich)