The United Nations refugee agency today said that renewed fighting in the Central African Republic (CAR) is threatening civilians in the south-east of the country and compromising access to refugees and internally displaced people.
The agency is "increasingly worried by the situation," Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva.
An alliance of rebel groups known collectively as 'Séléka' is advancing east towards the town of Zemio, where 3,300 people have taken refuge. On Tuesday, the group took the major town of Bangassou, the gateway to the south-east of the country and critical refuelling stop for humanitarian workers.
The security risk has forced UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies to temporarily relocate some staff to Bangui, the capital.
"Although we still have some staff in place, services for refugees are nonetheless reduced," Ms. Lejeune-Kaba said.
Clashes since December between Séléka forces and the CAR army have seriously restricted humanitarian access to some 5,300 refugees and more than 175,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs). In addition, an estimated 29,000 civilians fled to neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), while 5,000 crossed to Chad.
Most of the IDPs with whom UNHCR and its partners have met the past two months have said that they live in fear and insecurity.
Meanwhile, 99 per cent of the 168,000 children who went to school before the crisis are no longer in school.
"Even more worrying, 1 in 5 of the children out of school is believed to have been forcibly recruited by armed groups," Ms. Lejeune-Kaba said.
Margaret Vogt, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in CAR, warned earlier this week that without a strong response from the international community, there is no future for the country.
Séléka forces and the CAR authorities reached a ceasefire agreement on 11 January with provisions for a shared governance arrangement, but the rebels claim the Government is failing to live up to its commitments.