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UNICEF sounds alarm bells over CAR

GENEVA, Switzerland, Nov. 22 (UPI) -- UNICEF said there may be as many as 6,000 child soldiers fighting in a conflict in Central African Republic the international community has largely ignored.

UNICEF representatives Patrick McCormick and Souleymane Diabate briefed U.N. representatives in Geneva, Switzerland, about the crisis in CAR.

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In a summary briefing of the meeting, the United Nations said the envoys viewed the situation in CAR as "tragic." Nearly all of the 4.6 million people in the country are affected by the crisis and as many as 6,000 children were involved in the fight directly, the UNICEF representatives said.

The rebel Seleka coalition toppled the government in March, compounding the security situation in one of the world's poorest country.

U.S. lawmakers heard testimony this week about the crisis. CAR Bishop Nestor-Desire Nongo Aziagbia said Seleka was accused of mass killings and British newspaper The Guardian reported Friday the conflict may be on the verge of genocide.

The United Nations said a "pre-genocide" situation may exist as the conflict takes on a religious aspect, pitting Christians against Seleka, which is mostly Muslim.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said this week he supported calls for an African Union-led peacekeeping mission in CAR.

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UNICEF said it was worried the preoccupation with Syria was in part to blame for the CAR cycle of violence.

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