United Nations leader Ban Ki-moon. File picture: Lars Krabbe

Rome - Christian and Muslim leaders from conflict-torn Central African Republic said on Monday that they have appealed to UN chief Ban Ki-moon to rapidly deploy peacekeepers to stop the country's “descent into hell”.

A multi-faith delegation, made up of an archbishop, an imam and the head of the country's Protestant community, made the plea during a 10-day visit to Washington and New York, where they also sought help from the United States to end months of Christian-Muslim violence.

“We need an operation, and for it to happen without delay,” said Dieudonne Nzapalainga, the Catholic archbishop of the capital Bangui.

“We want to stop this descent into hell,” he told AFP in Rome, where the three leaders have an audience with Pope Francis on Wednesday.

Nzapalainga said the current peacekeeping missions - the 6 000-strong African Union force known as MISCA and France's 2 000-troop Operation Sangaris - are facing “enormous logistical problems”.

“They are stretched to the limit, and it's time to come and help them.”

The leaders estimated the country needs between 15 000 and 18 000 peacekeepers, but said they fear no new force will be deployed until September.

“One of our goals in the US was to explain the humanitarian situation,” said Imam Oumar Kobine Layama. “It's been almost a year since people have been able to work the fields. Seeds for the next crop have been lost as villages burnt, just as the rainy season is approaching.”

The religious leaders stepped in to call for peace after a spate of violence and revenge attacks between the Muslim minority and Christian majority. Thousands have been killed and a quarter of the country's population displaced in the chaos following a March 2013 coup.

Reverend Nicolas Guerekoyame-Gbangou, the president of the Evangelical Alliance, also called for some form of American aid.

“We have asked the authorities to resume their relations with the CAR. The European are there, France is taking the lead, but there is also a place for the US,” he said. “USAID should come, with all the other American NGOs.” - Sapa-AFP