The United Nations humanitarian office has voiced serious concerns about the protection of civilians amid reports of widespread looting and violence in the Central African Republic (CAR), where an armed rebel group had threatened to march on the capital.
Following recent attacks on several towns in the country's north-east, a rebel alliance known as 'Séléka' reportedly halted their advance this week on the capital, Bangui, and agreed to start peace talks, with representatives from both meeting in the Gabonese capital, Libreville.
"An estimated 316,000 people are living in the affected areas, and some 700,000 persons in Bangui are at further risk of an escalation in fighting," the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a situation report on CAR issued on Wednesday night.
"There are reports of people fleeing their homes for safety from a number of areas, including Bangui, in and around Ndélé where the fighting initially broke out, and across the borders to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to Cameroon," it added.
Both Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council have condemned the attacks and called on the rebels to halt hostilities.
They have also called on both the Government and the rebels to resolve the current crisis through dialogue, and to abide by the 2008 Libreville Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which was signed by the Government and the three main rebel groups and which helped bring an end to conflicts inside CAR.
The Secretary-General's Special Representative and Head of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in CAR (BINUCA), Margaret Vogt, has remained in close dialogue with the key parties and has offered support to political negotiations.
OCHA also noted that the violence has prompted the temporary evacuation of humanitarian staff out of affected areas and has "seriously disrupted" life-saving humanitarian programmes in those areas.
CAR has a history of political instability and recurring armed conflict. State authority is weak in many parts of the country, which are largely controlled by rebel groups and criminal armed groups, according to the UN Department of Political Affairs (DPA).
Coupled with ethnic tensions in the north, frequent armed incursions by rebel elements from neighbouring countries and the presence of members of the armed Ugandan group known as the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), have added to insecurity and instability in CAR, which also has 170,000 people displaced internally.