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Children beheaded as violence grows in Central African Republic, U.N. says

By Faith Karimi, CNN
updated 1:40 AM EST, Fri January 3, 2014
A Central African Republic police officer chases looters attacking a broken-down truck Friday, February 7, in the capital of Bangui. The country, a former French colony, was plunged into chaos last year after a coalition of mostly Muslim rebels ousted President Francois Bozize. A Central African Republic police officer chases looters attacking a broken-down truck Friday, February 7, in the capital of Bangui. The country, a former French colony, was plunged into chaos last year after a coalition of mostly Muslim rebels ousted President Francois Bozize.
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Crisis in the Central African Republic
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Internally displaced number exceeds 935,000, U.N. says
  • U.N. reports escalating violence against children
  • Thousands of children recruited into armed groups
  • Number of child soldiers in the nation has doubled to 6,000, U.N. says

(CNN) -- Escalating violence in the Central African Republic is posing a threat to children, with at least two beheaded and thousands recruited as soldiers, the United Nations said.

The United Nations says it verified the deaths of 16 children since violence broke out in the capital of Bangui on December 5. Dozens of others have been injured.

"We are witnessing unprecedented levels of violence against children. More and more children are being recruited into armed groups, and they are also being directly targeted in atrocious revenge attacks," said Souleymane Diabate, UNICEF representative in the nation.

Number of child soldiers doubles

Chilling violence spreads in C.A.R.

Late last year, the U.N. said the number of child soldiers in the nation had doubled to 6,000 as violence escalated.

"Targeted attacks against children are a violation of international humanitarian and human rights law and must stop immediately. Concrete action is needed now to prevent violence against children," Diabate said.

In the capital, 370,000 people -- about half the population -- have been displaced, the United Nations said.

More than 935,000 people have been internally displaced nationwide, the U.N. refugee agency said on Friday.

Chaos, violence

The nation plunged into chaos after a coalition of rebels named Seleka ousted President Francois Bozize in March, the latest in a series of coups since the nation gained independence.

They accused him of reneging on a peace deal and demanded that he step down. Months before his ouster, both sides had brokered a deal to form a unity government led by the President.

But that deal fell apart as the rebel coalition pushed its way from the north toward the capital of Bangui, seizing towns along the way.

Rebels infiltrated the capital in March, sending Bozize fleeing to Cameroon.

Fears of genocide

Since then, political turmoil raged and violence became the order of the day. Seleka is a predominantly Muslim coalition, and to counter the attacks, vigilante Christian groups fought back. The country descended into anarchy, and the United Nations has warned that a genocide is brewing.

Aid agencies have warned of a humanitarian crisis as rapes, killings and other horrors grow in the nation. An unknown number of people have been killed in remote rural areas that are too risky to access. Others have fled into forests.

Aid agency Doctors Without Borders said Thursday it will reduce medical activities at the airport in the capital because of insecurity.

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