NEW YORK, Feb. 15 (UPI) -- The current violence in Syria could lead to the division of the country along sectarian and ethnic lines, a top U.N. official warned.
Edward Luck, a special adviser to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, was speaking about the crackdown on the pro-democracy uprising by the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad.
Luck expressed concern that the situation is turning into "more of a sectarian conflict," with targeted attacks against certain groups, a U.N. News report said.
"There are signs that the nature of the conflict has changed, and that is very worrisome," he said.
Assad's family are Alawites, a small minority in the predominantly Sunni Muslim country, which also has Christians and number of other minorities.
Luck said the diversity of Syria's population increases the risk of divisions.
"If you look at the demographic breakdown of the population in Syria, it's a demographic minefield," he said. "And we've seen in this region of the world some terrible examples of what can happen when a country is divided along sectarian lines."
Luck urged the international community, including the League of Arab States, to speak with one consistent and strong voice on the need to reduce sectarian tensions.
"There needs to be a clear voice for tolerance … this is the message that must be sent."
Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, briefed the General Assembly on Syrian developments.
"The longer the international community fails to take action, the more the civilian population will suffer from countless atrocities committed against them," she said.