Bangui - The strife-torn nation of Central African Republic has begun accepting required information from candidates for the new transitional leader as the country descends toward anarchy and sectarian bloodshed.
Blaise Fleury Otto, of the national council now tasked with choosing the new leader, said on Friday that candidates have until Saturday morning to submit their materials, including a birth certificate and certificate of nationality.
Former rebel leader Michel Djotodia stepped down as president a week ago and the selection for transitional leader is set to take place on Monday, he said.
John Ging, the director of the UN humanitarian operations, warned on Thursday that the bloodshed in Central African Republic could turn into a genocide if the international community doesn't act to stop killings between Christians and Muslims.
"The stakes are extremely high," Ging said after a four-day visit to the country. "The crisis has all the elements that we have seen elsewhere in places like Rwanda and Bosnia. The seeds are there for a genocide, there is no doubt."
The UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said on Friday that "the extreme poverty, lack of governance, insecurity, and a range of complex political, religious and human rights issues have contributed to a major humanitarian crisis, which is also affecting the region."
"Reports of atrocities and gross human rights violations have continued against civilians, including children, despite efforts to restore calm and a strengthened international military presence," she said in a statement.
At least 900 000 people —nearly a fifth of the population — have been driven from their homes and half the population now needs humanitarian aid, she said.
Amos said the United Nations and humanitarian organisations urgently need $551m to provide vital relief and protection to 1.9 million people across the country over the next three months.
Among the criteria for the new transitional leader: Candidates cannot take part if they have participated in a militia or an armed rebellion in the past 20 years. That caveat could eliminate many as the country has long been ravaged by coups and armed groups.
Djotodia's rebel Seleka coalition toppled the government of ex-president Francois Bozize in March 2013. Bozize himself rose to power after a rebellion a decade earlier.
Djotodia's administration was ultimately undermined by his mostly Muslim rebels' continued attacks on civilians, which spurred retaliatory attacks by Christian fighters that led to unprecedented violence last month. More than 1 000 people were killed in December alone, and the violence prompted nearly one million people to flee their homes.
Dozens of people have died since Djotodia stepped down one week ago, and there are fears that the selection of a new leader could spark another round of bloodshed.
On Thursday, the national council finalised rules stipulating that candidates could not be former members of the transitional government or leaders of political parties. They also cannot have been implicated in the mismanagement of a government office.
An official close to the transitional council, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said the registration process got off to a slow start on Friday, with only one candidate having submitted materials by early afternoon.
The new leader is supposed to guide the country to elections before the end of the year, though critics already say that timetable is not feasible because so many administrative buildings were looted and records destroyed during the past year.