WASHINGTON, Jan 26 (Reuters) - The United States is deeply concerned with the escalation in clashes in Central African Republic and is prepared to impose targeted sanctions against those responsible for the religious-based violence, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned on Sunday.
At least eight people were killed in mob violence in the capital Bangui on Sunday, the country's Red cross said.
A Muslim former minister was hacked to death on Friday by militia, and at least nine others were killed when bands of people, some of them Christian groups, attacked and looted shops in a mostly Muslim neighborhood in the capital.
"The United States is prepared to consider targeted sanctions against those who further destabilize the situation, or pursue their own selfish ends by abetting or encouraging the violence," Kerry said in a statement.
He urged the country's leaders to call on supporters to "cease any and all attacks on civilians."
"Preventing the violence from gaining further momentum and costing more lives will require all of CAR's leaders, past and present, to be clear in condemning it," Kerry said.
Almost 1 million people, or a quarter of the population in the mineral-rich country, have been displaced by fighting that began when mainly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the majority Christian former French colony in March.
Christian self-defense groups, known as "anti-balaka", or anti-machete, have since taken up arms against them. The U.N. has estimated that more than 2,000 people have been killed since March.
Kerry said the selection of an interim government led by President Catherine Samba-Panza to restore order was an opportunity to rebuild. He called on neighboring countries to ensure no arms or other support to armed groups are allowed to cross into the CAR. (Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by David Gregorio)