DAKAR - Escalating violence between rival armed factions in Central African Republic is cutting off humanitarian access to civilians most needing help, while emboldened fighters are now infiltrating camps for the displaced, agencies said on Thursday.
As many as 100 people may have been killed on Tuesday in the diamond-mining town of Bria, 580 km (360 miles) northeast of the capital Bangui, one day after militias signed a peace deal aimed at ending years of bloodshed.
Thousands have died and about a fifth of the former French colony's 5 million people have fled their homes in a conflict that broke out after mainly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in 2013, provoking a backlash from Christian anti-balaka militias.
Recent fighting in Bria and the towns of Bangassou and Alindao has uprooted more than 100,000 people, in the worst displacement since the nation plunged into chaos four years ago.
Armed with heavy weaponry and destroying bridges and roads, the militias are becoming emboldened and unpredictable, spreading fear among civilians and making it harder to support the displaced and those most in need, aid agencies say.
“Access is the main humanitarian issue ... it not possible to reach many of those people who are suffering the most,” Donaig Le Du, spokeswoman for the U.N. children's agency (UNICEF), told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
The U.N. agency this month had to deliver aid by plane to Bangassou — a more costly and complicated option than using trucks — as it could not find any drivers willing to travel by road due to fear of attack, Le Du added.
Tuesday's clashes in Bria broke out near a camp for people who had been forced to flee previous violence, while aid agencies' offices were looted during the fighting, said the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
A dangerous country
“Armed groups are targeting and even infiltrating IDP (internally displaced persons) camps ... it is becoming a very serious concern,” said Joseph Inganji, OCHA's country director.
“We are worried that many of the country's IDP camps (more than 90) are losing their civilian character,” he added.
Central African Republic is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for aid agencies, with at least 33 attacks on aid workers in the first quarter of 2017, OCHA says.