UNHCR deploys additional emergency teams in Central African Republic

Briefing Notes, 17 December 2013

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 17 December 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is sending additional protection and other teams to Central African Republic in view of the deteriorating situation there and reports of new displacement. Staff have begun arriving this week and more are on their way.

Bangui

In Bangui, our staff are reporting continued shooting and a mood of wide fear. Yesterday, the outskirts of Bangui, we came across some 40,000 people who had been uprooted on the 5th and 6th of December but who had been out of reach till now because of heavy fighting. In Bangui alone, we now believe that some 210,000 people have been displaced just in the last two weeks.

Amid the insecurity and food shortages many women and children from Bangui have fled across the Oubangui River to seek refuge in Zongo in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Although the border is officially closed, 1,815 people managed to cross into Zongo over the weekend, bringing to 3,292 the total number of CAR refugees to have arrived there since December 5th.

Many of the new arrivals report witnessing atrocities. They have also told us that displaced people camping at Bangui airport are planning to join them in Zongo. At Bangui airport, we have had to temporarily suspend aid distribution because of security incidents, some of which are related to sectarian violence.

Bossangoa and further north

In Bossangoa, 400 km northwest of Bangui, anti-Balaka groups looted shops and burned houses in the northern part of the town over the weekend. The area is largely populated by Muslims.

Some 5,600 people have become displaced since renewed fighting started between former Seleka fighters and armed anti-Balaka groups almost a fortnight ago. The newly displaced have joined the more than 4,000 already staying on the premises of the overcrowded Liberté school.

We continue to hear of attacks against Christians by former Seleka, with looting, killing and houses being set on fire. As well as at the school, since September 40,000 people have found sanctuary inside Bossangoa's sprawling Roman Catholic church. Tensions are reported at the church between the regional Africa force known as FOMAC and anti-Balaka youth who are resisting disarmament. The youth are armed with agricultural tools and machetes but have refused to surrender them.

UNHCR is extremely concerned by the presence of armed elements within sites hosting displaced people. We have requested French troops supported by FOMAC to step up patrols in troubled neighbourhoods and in the makeshift sites.

Anti-Balaka groups are reported to be threatening further attacks against ex-Seleka forces unless they disarm in and around the city of Paoua, located 131 kilometres from Bossangoa and near the Chadian border.

In Beboura, 30 km northeast of Paoua, ex-Seleka reportedly clashed with an armed group calling itself Groupe de Revendication pour la Paix (GRP). Hundreds of civilians have gone hiding into the bushes, while others have left their cars and motorbikes at the FOMAC base for fear of seeing them looted.

More than 710, 000 people have been uprooted within CAR since the current crisis began a year ago, while over 75,000 others have fled into exile.

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