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Violence Displacing Bangui Residents

Central African Republic's new President Michel Djotodia speaks to his supporters at a rally in favor of the Seleka rebel coalition in downtown Bangui Mar. 30, 2013.
Ongoing violence in the Central African Republic capital Bangui caused thousands of civilians to seek safety at the international airport Wednesday. The U.N. refugee agency is calling on the government to take immediate action to protect the civilians.

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The fighting is taking place in at least two areas of the city – the Boy-Rabe and Boeing neighborhoods.

“UNHCR is alarmed at the recent events in the Central African Republic’s capital. We have seen that attacks on civilians have forced thousands of people to take refuge in different locations in the capital Bangui itself, “ said UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch.

Baloch said the violence – which has taken at least 10 lives -- is blamed on various armed groups. Reuters news agency describes them as “marauding former rebel fighters.”

“Over the past 10 days, there have been reports of arbitrary arrests, detention, torture, extortion, armed robbery and also reports of physical violence and restrictions on movement of the civilians. So this is what is forcing people out of their houses. And in CAR there were over 200,000 people who were displaced already before these events,” Baloch said.

Up to 6,000 people have taken refuge at the nearby airport, mostly women and children. The airport runway was blocked for a time and flights diverted to Cameroon.

Baloch said, “UNHCR is calling on authorities to [take] immediate action to protect civilians from harm allow these people to return to their houses. What we don’t want is people who have recently been displaced to end up in a prolonged displacement. We want them to be able to return to their homes as soon as possible.”

Some of the civilians have also sought shelter in a hospital and churches, as well as the homes of relatives.

Last March, five armed groups -- united under the name Seleka -- toppled President Francois Bozize. Michel Djotodia, former Seleka leader, is now president. He recently promised to “preserve peace” and “consolidate unity” and called on his opponents to recognize his legitimacy. Supporters of Mr. Bozize have rejected Djotodia’s presidency.