GENEVA - The U.N. refugee agency reports thousands of people have fled this week from deadly attacks by various groups of armed men in the Central African Republic town of Bambari.
Tensions have been at a boiling point in Bambari since May, when widespread fighting displaced more than 13,000 people. On Monday, armed elements attacked a Muslim displacement camp south of the city. Other armed men and the civilian population then retaliated.
UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said at least 45 people have been killed and scores wounded in the attacks and counterattacks. She said the violence has prompted thousands of people to flee the town, which lies about 380 kilometers northeast of Bangui, the capital of C.A.R.
“Our staff there says the town of Bambari has been reduced to a ghost city," Fleming said. "They say that Christian neighborhoods have been virtually emptied of residents from previous attacks while displacement sites are packed with people struggling to get by and of course to compound it all, we have the rainy season making things even more miserable.”
Fleming says people urgently need better protection, shelter, water and sanitation, as well as food and other items. She said the UNHCR and its partners are doing their best to fulfill these needs, but the volatile security situation is making it difficult to operate.
She says the delivery of humanitarian assistance is also being hampered by fears that the cycle of revenge attacks soon will pick up again. In addition to internal displacement, Fleming told VOA more people continue to flee into neighboring countries.
“We are seeing that the conditions of people coming in are just absolutely despicable in terms of human frailty, what is being done to them -- people with machete wounds, huge numbers of malnourished," Fleming said. "This we have been reporting to you for the past several months and it continues. So, a reflection of a really just horrific situation inside the Central African Republic where the state is not in control and where the fighting continues unabated.”
The latest UNHCR figures show nearly 140,000 people from C.A.R. have sought refuge in Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, and the Republic of Congo in the last six months. It says most of the refugees are in Cameroon, where last week the UNHCR registered another 3,000 people.
The agency says the number displaced inside Central African Republic is even higher - 536,500 people. More than 111,000 of them are living in 43 sites in Bangui.