Geneva - More than 600 people have been killed in sectarian violence tearing though the Central African Republic in the past week, including 27 Muslims killed Thursday in a western village, the UN said on Friday.
"We are seeing a further deterioration in the situation in Central African Republic," UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards said, pointing out that fighting and sectarian violence had killed 450 people in Bangui and 160 elsewhere in the country in the past week alone.
Some 159 000 people had also fled their homes in the capital, he told reporters in Geneva.
The killings outside the capital, which had been tallied by the National Red Cross and Danish Refugee Council, had mainly taken place in the northwestern part of the country, he said.
Twenty-seven Muslims had been killed in a single attack by so-called self-defence militias, known as anti-Balaka, in the western village of Bohong Thursday, according to the UN's human rights agency.
"We condemn any attack on places of worship and on religious freedom, and urge all communities to exercise restraint," said Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
She decried "a vicious cycle of attacks and reprisals" in the strife-torn nation.
The resource-rich but poverty-stricken majority Christian country was plunged into chaos following a March coup by mainly Muslim Seleka rebels.
A fresh wave of violence enveloped the country on December 5, prompting French troops to deploy last week in a bid to stop communal strife that had sparked global alarm and talk of a possible genocide.
Some 38,000 people have sought refuge at Bangui's airport amid fear of the sectarian violence, Edwards said, pointing out that they currently were "without latrines or washing facilities and with no shelter from the rains or sun."
UNHCR has provided tents through its partner Medecins Sans Frontiers, which has set up a medical clinic at the airport, he said.
Another 12,000 were at Bangui's Saint Joseph Mukassa church, which has only one water point, Edwards said.
Some 460 people there were in need of medical attention, including 101 pregnant women, he said, pointing out that three women had already given birth "without equipment."
Edwards lamented that aid so far had reached relatively small numbers -- only some 3,500 families in Bangui and another 3,000 in Bossangoa.
"We appeal once again to all parties to let humanitarian help through, and to protect civilians," he said.
Many people were also continuing to flee the conflict-ridden country into neighbouring nations, with some 1,800 flooding across the border to the Democratic Republic of Congo in the past week alone.
Since March, around 47,000 people have crossed into that country from Central Africa.
In all, the crisis in CAR has driven more than 70,000 into surrounding countries over the past year, UNHCR said.