GENEVA: U.N. investigators in the Central African Republic have found a litany of gross human rights violations including killings committed by both sides in the conflict, the world body's rights chief said Tuesday.
"The widespread lawlessness and gross human rights violations highlighted in these preliminary findings confirm the need for urgent action and accountability," Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said in a statement.
"The situation remains extremely volatile and dangerous," she warned.
Pillay is to present the investigators' findings at a special session of the UN Human Rights Council on the Central African Republic next Monday.
Her spokesman Rupert Coville said the four-member team deployed in the impoverished country from December 12-24 found a "cycle of widespread human rights violations and reprisals".
"These include extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, mutilations, enforced disappearances, ill-treatment, rape and the deliberate targeting of civilians based on their religion," Colville told reporters.
The majority Christian country has descended into chaos and sectarian unrest since a March 2013 coup by mainly Muslim Seleka rebels.
After a fresh wave of violence began in December, French troops deployed in a bid to bolster an undermanned African peacekeeping force.
They have struggled to stem a crisis which has now uprooted some 900,000 people and left cash-strapped aid agencies struggling to help 2.6 million Central Africans, with hunger on the increase.
The UN investigators documented a string of community killings in December, as so-called "anti-balaka" Christian militias turned on former Seleka fighters.
"During the clashes, anti-balaka forces killed members of the ex-Seleka forces but also deliberately targeted Muslim civilians, including women and children," said Colville.
During the reprisals that followed ex-Seleka members detained and were believed to have executed male civilians in a camp, and also hunted them down in hospitals.
Muslim civilians also took part in killings, while ex-Seleka fighters masqueraded as Chadian peacekeepers from the African FOMAC force, searching house-to-house for anti-balaka members, killing civilians in the process.
"The team also said it received credible testimonies of collusion between some Chadian FOMAC elements and ex-Seleka forces," Colville added.
The investigators also documented anti-balaka attacks on mosques, and ex-Seleka attacks on churches.
The French deployment and an expanded African peacekeeping force, plus efforts to confine ex-Seleka fighters to their barracks and disarm them, appeared to have deterred further large-scale attacks on Christian civilians, the probe found.
But is also left some Muslim communities vulnerable to anti-balaka retaliatory attacks, it said.
The country's former rebel leader turned interim president, Michel Djotodia, resigned last week under international pressure.