Thousands flee fresh violence in Central African Republic town of Bambari

The violence began early on Monday when armed elements attacked a camp just south of Bambari housing Muslims from the Peul ethnic group.

These women from Central African Republic are among the hundreds of thousands displaced by the conflict in the country.  © UNHCR/F.Noy

BANGUI, Central African Republic, June 27 (UNHCR) - Fresh violence and reprisal attacks in and around the Central African Republic town of Bambari has displaced thousands of people and left at least 45 people dead and scores wounded this week.

The violence began early on Monday when armed elements attacked a camp just south of Bambari housing Muslims from the Peul ethnic group. The attack prompted retaliation inside Bambari against other armed elements and the civilian population. Those fleeing the violence have sought shelter in displacement sites around the town, which lies some 380 kilometres northeast of the capital Bangui.

UNHCR staff say that by Wednesday, Bambari had been reduced to a ghost town. Christian neighbourhoods have been emptied of residents from previous violence, while displacement sites are packed with people struggling to get by amid the rainy season.

People urgently need better protection, shelter, water and sanitation, as well as food and other items. UNHCR is sending in non-food items, mainly tarpaulins. However, the security situation remains volatile and there are fears that the cycle of revenge will pick up again soon.

Tension has been at boiling point in Bambari since May, when widespread fighting displaced more than 13,000 people. Armed groups have continued fighting since and attacking the local population. Tens of people have been killed or injured, and hundreds of homes have been razed. Prices of basic goods are meanwhile soaring, and displaced people are returning repeatedly to the sites for internally displaced people.

The resumed conflict has also halted many activities at the nearby refugee camp of Pladama Ouaka, situated just 10 km from Bambari. The camp hosts approximately 1,960 Sudanese refugees - people who fled to Central African Republic in 2007 due to fighting in Sudan's Darfur region.

This week's fighting has restricted the refugees' movements in the area even further than previously. UNHCR is doing what it can to help their situation in cooperation with national and international partners. In all, there are approximately 10,660 refugees and asylum-seekers in the Central African Republic.

To date, almost 140,000 people from Central African Republic have sought refuge in Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chad and the Republic of Congo since December 2013. Most of the people are seeking refuge in Cameroon (106,000), where last week UNHCR registered more than 3,000 people.

In other areas of the country, the situation remains precarious. In the northern prefectures of Ouham and Ouham-Pende, insecurity threatens humanitarian access. The town of Bang, near the borders with Chad and Cameroon, was under the control of armed groups until last Sunday. On the same day, fighting in the town of Batangafo led to the displacement of more than 1,000 people.

Lastly, in the northern-eastern town of Birao, armed elements took control of the airfield on 23 June. The number of displaced in the Central African Republic due to the violence is estimated at 536,500 people, of whom 111,500 are living in 43 sites in Bangui.

The CAR situation Regional Response Plan of US$274 million is now 20 per cent funded, with the latest contribution being US$22 million from the United States.

By Aikaterini Kitidi in Bangui, Central African Republic