CAR capital relapsing into violence following stepped-up attacks

Briefing Notes, 1 April 2014

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 1 April 2014, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The capital of the Central African Republic, Bangui, has relapsed into wider violence in the past week after anti-Balaka fighters have stepped up attacks on Muslim populations and African Union peacekeeping forces (MISCA) protecting them.

Also last week in Bangui, a group of Muslim youth attacked Christians during a funeral ceremony, killing 20 of the mourners.

The renewed inter-communal violence has triggered further displacement within the country and across its borders. Since the attacks in the capital early last week, the number of internally displaced people in CAR has risen to 637,000, including 207,000 in Bangui alone. This represents an increase of nearly 16,000 uprooted people.

At the height of the crisis, close to 1 million people were displaced by violence inside CAR, including 700,000 in Bangui alone. More than 2,000 people have also been killed in the conflict between Seleka and anti-Balaka fighters since December last year.

Anti-Balaka forces control major routes to and from Bangui as well as many towns and villages in the southwest of CAR. They pose a particular threat to Muslims in the PK12 neighbourhood of Bangui, in Boda, Carnot and Berberati, to the west of Bangui, and in Bossangoa, further north.

We fear for the lives of 19,000 Muslims in those locations. UNHCR stands ready to assist with their evacuation to safer areas within or outside of the country.

Representatives of the Muslim population in Boda told our staff last week that they felt trapped and that the presence and protection provided by the French troops (Opération Sangaris) has so far prevented them from being killed. They added that their freedom of movement is restricted and are requesting to be moved to a safer place.

Many of Boda's Christians also fear the anti-Balaka militiamen, who operate with impunity.

UNHCR and its partners are planning to send staff to the area this week to establish a humanitarian presence and ensure the delivery of assistance to those at risk in Boda and Carnot. In the meantime, we are exploring the possibility of their relocation to Kabo and Moyen Sido in the north of the country.

The town of Bemal, also in the north, been identified for relocation of communities at risk. A joint mission by UNHCR and OCHA is heading there today for discussions with local youth worried about their security, should the relocation take place.

Meanwhile, the mostly Muslim CAR refugees continue to stream into neighbouring countries. In the past three months, more than 82,000 Centrafricans have found shelter in Cameroon, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in the Republic of Congo and in Chad.

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Each week 10,000 Muslims cross into eastern Cameroon to escape the violence consuming the Central African Republic (CAR). Many new arrivals report that they have been repeatedly attacked as they fled. The anti-Balaka militiamen have blocked main roads to Cameroon, forcing people to find alternate routes through the bush. Many are walking two to three months to reach Cameroon, arriving malnourished and bearing wounds from machetes and gunshots.

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