Thousands of people are fleeing new violence and reprisal attacks in and around the town of Bambari in Central African Republic (CAR) that have already left at least 45 people dead and scores more wounded, the United Nations refugee agency reported today.
Violence in the town, which lies some 380 kilometres north-east of the capital, Bangui, began early on Monday when armed elements attacked a camp just south of Bambari housing Muslims from the Peul ethnic group.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the attack prompted retaliation inside Bambari against other armed elements and the civilian population. The agency's staff said that by Wednesday Bambari had been reduced to a "ghost city."
"Christian neighbourhoods have been emptied of residents from previous fighting, while displacement sites are packed with people struggling to get by amid the rainy season," Melissa Fleming, UNHCR's spokesperson in Geneva, told reporters.
She said that people urgently need better protection, shelter, water and sanitation, as well as food and other items. UNHCR is sending non-food items, mainly tarpaulins.
"However, the security situation remains volatile and there are fears that the cycle of revenge will pick up again soon," Ms. Fleming said, noting that tension has been at "boiling point" in Bambari since May, when widespread fighting displaced more than 13,000 people.
"Armed groups have continued fighting since and attacking the local population," she continued. "Tens of people have been killed or injured, and hundreds of homes have been razed."
Meanwhile, the prices of basic goods are soaring, and uprooted people are returning repeatedly to the sites for internally displaced persons (IDPs).
The resumed cycle of conflict has also halted many activities at the nearby refugee camp of Pladama Ouaka, situated just 10 kilometres away from Bambari, Ms. Fleming said. The camp hosts some 1,960 Sudanese refugees - people who fled to CAR in 2007 due to fighting in Sudan's Darfur region.
This week's fighting has restricted the refugees' movements in the area even further than previously, she said. UNHCR is doing what it can to help their situation in cooperation with national and international partners. In all, there are approximately 10,667 refugees and asylum-seekers in the CAR.
As of 20 June, some 139,393 people from CAR have sought refuge in Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chad and the Republic of Congo since December 2013.