UNHCR fears for civilians in Central African Republic as hundreds flee to DR Congo

UNHCR staff in Bangui report the situation as very tense on Friday morning. Gunfire could be heard in the city's 8th District, preventing residents from leaving their homes.

Refugees from Central African Republic in Democratic Republic of the Congo. Some 700 crossed the Oubangui River to the Zongo area in DR Congo yesterday.  © UNHCR/B.Sokol

BANGUI, Central African Republic, December 6 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency on Friday expressed alarm at the deteriorating security situation in the Central African Republic and concern for the safety of civilians caught in the latest fighting.

More than 200 civilians are believed to have been killed after being caught in the clashes between fighters of the former Seleka rebel group and self-defence forces in the capital Bangui and the town of Bossangoa to the northwest. According to UN and media reports, at least 140 civilians were killed during fresh attacks yesterday in Bangui.

Attacks and executions of civilians in hospital and worship places were also reported across the city. This is the first major fighting in the capital since March, when Seleka forces captured Bangui and ousted the government of President Francois Bozize.

UNHCR staff in Bangui reported that the situation was very tense on Friday morning. Gunfire could be heard in the city's 8th District, preventing residents from leaving their homes. The refugee agency has also received worrying reports of sectarian and revenge attacks between neighbours throughout Bangui. A local UNHCR worker was attacked in his home last night and the assailants took away and killed his 24-year-old nephew.

Up to 1,000 people were reported to have sought shelter at Bangui's main cathedral as of Thursday night. UNHCR fears that many more people in Bangui will need to leave their homes to seek safety if the sectarian violence continues.

A growing number of people are fleeing across the Oubangui River and seeking shelter in the town of Zongo in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Yesterday, close to 700 people had crossed and more were arriving this morning. Our colleagues in Zongo are verifying the number of arrivals along the river.

The newly arrived are staying in a school at Gbala, a village located 12 kilometres from Zongo. The school, a former refugee transit centre built by UNHCR, has facilities for receiving refugees.

Meanwhile in Bossangoa, heavy shelling Thursday afternoon caused panic among the residents. Although the shelling has stopped, the situation remains unpredictable and tension is high. More than 100 people are believed to have been killed during sectarian violence. A member of the Central African Community forces was killed by a stray bullet.

There are some 40,000 forcibly displaced people in Bossangoa, mostly sheltered in the compound of the Roman Catholic church there. They need support, but the dangerous security conditions are hampering aid delivery. One UNHCR convoy, carrying 60 tons of relief supplies, reached Bossangoa yesterday and its aid will be distributed soon. The aid includes tarpaulins, blankets, sleeping mats, mosquito nets, jerry cans, buckets and soap for some 3,000 displaced families in Bossangoa.

Since December 2012, conflict in the CAR has displaced nearly 400,000 people within the country and forced another 69,800 into exile in neighbouring countries, mostly to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.