The country has been described as a failed state in permanent crisis. Decades of instability have undermined the economy and life expectancy is just 39 years.

Simon Guillebaud, who has been working in nearby Burundi since 1998, called on UK churchgoers to pray and says Christians are now being targeted.

He told Christianity magazine, ‘I spent a while in CAR and Pierre, the church leader I worked with there, is sending me daily updates. His home is now full of people who have come to him for protection. Gangs have turned up at the homes of pastors and just taken over.

 "The situation is grim and it is easy to turn away"

‘There is rape and murder happening right now. Churches in the UK need to mobilise and pray. The situation is grim and it is easy to turn away but I lived with Pierre, I played with his kids. His nephew was murdered two days ago.’

Guillebaud believes the intention is to Islamise the country, which is 80% Christian. ‘I care passionately for any person, regardless of faith,’ he said. ‘But the agenda here is very clear.’

In April the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) accepted rebel head Michel Djotodia as the country’s interim leader. He has promised elections but correspondents say he does not have widespread international support. Meanwhile, Unicef warned that increasing numbers of children are being wounded in the conflict.

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