The U.N. refugee agency warns renewed violence in the Central African Republic is threatening thousands of civilian lives, forcing many to flee and destroying villages and camps for displaced people.
United Nations officials describe a chaotic scene of attacks by rival warring groups in different parts of CAR. UNHCR spokesman Andreij Mahecic tells VOA that violence has broken out near the capital of Bangui, in central parts of the country, and close to the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo.
"It is of concern to us because it in many places affects the population that has been displaced already — most likely more than once — and these are the most vulnerable," Mahecic said. "And, as you know, there is a plethora of armed groups within the CAR. … It is very concerning that we have recorded this escalation of violence over the past days and weeks."
While clashes are going on between self-defense groups and other armed groups, the UNHCR says civilians and humanitarian workers also are being targeted.
In Zemio, a town near the border of DRC, the agency says houses close to its office were burned down. It says more than 1,000 people fled their homes, and many refugees in a nearby camp returned to DRC in fear for their lives.
Mahecic says clashes in the town of Bria were so violent that all 2,400 inhabitants of a camp for internally displaced people fled, leaving it empty.
"Indiscriminate attacks in Bria have left some 136 people dead and 36 wounded, with 600 houses burned and an additional 180 looted," he said. "These are conservative estimates. People fleeing the violence speak of having witnessed brutal attacks, killings, robberies, lootings and kidnappings."
It has not been possible to assess the full extent of damage or displacement from the recent violence because of the ongoing dangers, Mahecic says. The UNHCR reports more than five years of civil war in CAR has uprooted more than half a million people inside the country and sent nearly as many fleeing across borders.