OXFORD, England (CNS) — A priest in the Central African Republic said church leaders are hoping to see concrete results from an archbishop’s appeal for an international humanitarian mission and expansion of African Union peacekeeping forces.

“The church is acting as (the) voice of the voiceless in urging international intervention as soon as possible, said Msgr. Cyriaque Gbate Doumalo, secretary-general of the Catholic bishops’ conference. “Even in the capital, many have no shelter and nothing to eat, while children are sick and exposed.”

Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga of Bangui, Central African Republic, spoke to the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group Oct. 21. The archbishop said his nation was a powder keg, adding that, since March, the rebel coalition Seleka had expanded from 3,500 to 25,000 members, aided by child soldiers and a “constant supply of weapons.”

He also urged the U.N. to help establish an independent commission for “credible elections” and an investigation of crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court.

Last December, Seleka, which includes some Arab-speaking Islamists, launched an offensive against President Francois Bozize and suspended the constitution after seizing Bangui and ousting the president March 24.

In a June statement, the bishops’ conference said Seleka’s occupation had left the country “looted and destroyed” and its “social fabric completely torn up.”

Msgr. Doumalo said thousands of residents of Central African Republic faced hunger and disease.

He said 37,000 people had sought refuge at a Catholic mission in the eastern town of Bossangoa after fighting between Seleka forces and groups loyal to Bozize.

In September, the United Nations said that of the country’s 4.6 million people, 1.6 million were in dire need of assistance, including food, protection, health care, water, sanitation and shelter.