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UN: Civilians at Risk as CAR Rebels Advance

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The United Nations says a renewed rebel advance in the Central African Republic is threatening civilians and prompting thousands more to flee the country.

The U.N. refugee agency said Friday that 29,000 civilians have fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo - 5,000 more than the figure reported a week ago.

On Monday, the rebel movement Seleka captured the town of Bangoussou, located on the CAR-Congolese border, and have taken at least two other towns in the area this week.

Civilians appear to have little protection in the areas under rebel control, said Amy Martin, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for the CAR.

"What does this mean for the population?  This means that the population are exposed to a higher risk of human rights abuses, which we have seen throughout the past two months in all the areas under Seleka control," she said. "Human rights abuses, sexual violence."

Martin says the rebel advance has also cut off aid workers' access to thousands of internally displaced people.

Even before the rebel advance, aid groups and U.N. agencies were providing care to hundreds of thousands of CAR residents.  The landlocked country is one of the poorest in the world, and residents have endured decades of instability and rebel activity.

Seleka, a coalition of three rebel groups, seized much of the northern CAR during its first offensive in December.  The rebels and the government reached a peace deal in January, but the deal is looking shaky, with each side accusing the other of not living up to the accord.

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