US President Barack Obama has ordered sanctions against five people tied to sectarian violence in the Central African Republic and cleared the way for further penalties, stepping up the United States' response to a crisis that's plunged the former French colony into fear and chaos.
In an executive order issued on Tuesday, Obama declared a national emergency and said a breakdown of law and order, widespread atrocities and forced use of child soldiers threatened security not only in the Central African Republican, but also in neighbouring African nations.
Three of the individuals sanctioned, including the country's former president, Francois Bozize, were sanctioned previously by the United Nations.
The US sanctions target both Muslim rebels and members of a rival Christian movement - two sides of a brutal conflict that has confounded the international community.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement that the sanctions send "a powerful message that impunity will not be tolerated and that those who threaten the stability of the CAR will face consequences".
Word of the US penalties came the same day France announced that a 26-year-old French photojournalist who had spent months documenting the deadly conflict was killed after being caught in fighting.