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Central African Clerics Call for UN Peacekeeping Mission

Imam Oumar Kobine Layama, right, and Bangui Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga arrive at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, Jan. 23, 2014 (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
The Central African Republic's top Muslim and Roman Catholic leaders are calling for a United Nations peacekeeping force to end their country's brutal conflict that they argue is not religiously motivated.

Bangui's Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga and the CAR's top imam, Kobine Layama, are on a campaign to bring long-term peace in their country.

The archbishop tells of their travels around the country to defuse sectarian tensions. He says the two found Muslims as well as Christians suffering from a brutal conflict that has displaced 1 million people and killed more than 1,000 others in recent weeks alone.

At their news conference in Paris Thursday, Imam Layama describes a country on the edge.

The imam said he has seen orphaned children, widows and old people abandoned to fend for themselves. There have been enormous violations, he says, and his country is in a serious situation and on the brink of famine.

But Monsignor Nzapalainga also shared examples of how Muslims and Christians have tried to protect one another. In one case, he says, two young priests sheltered Muslims in their church. Describing the violence as religiously based, he says, does not reflect its complex political nature.

The two clerics are in Europe to seek support for a United Nations peacekeeping force in CAR to bolster French and African Union troops there. They say they will be meeting U.S. diplomats as well.

Earlier this week, the European Union agreed to dispatch 500 troops to CAR. The 28-member block also pledged nearly $500 million in humanitarian assistance. Washington has also announced an additional $30 million in aid.

Thousands of people have died in CAR in more than a year of political unrest that has evolved into sectarian violence.

A new interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza took office this week and has appealed for calm as her new government works to stabilize the nation.