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Obama orders US sanctions against 5 people over sectarian violence in Central African Republic

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama ordered sanctions Tuesday against five people tied to sectarian violence in the Central African Republic and cleared the way for further penalties, stepping up the U.S. response to a crisis that's plunged the former French colony into fear and chaos.

In an executive order, Obama declared a national emergency and said a breakdown of law and order, widespread atrocities and forced use of child soldiers threatens 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 U.S. 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 U.S. penalties came the same day France's presidency announced that a 26-year-old French photojournalist who had spent months documenting the deadly conflict was killed after being caught in fighting.

The landlocked nation exploded into sectarian violence in December. Thousands of French and African peacekeepers are trying to help stabilize the country.

The U.S. has previously provided transportation, equipment, training and logistical support to African-led troops.

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