Surging violence in Central African Republic has killed hundreds and forced some 88,000 people to flee their homes since the beginning of the month, the United Nations said Tuesday.
One of the world's poorest nations, the country has been struggling to recover from a three-year civil war between the Muslim and Christian militias that started in 2013.
A new flare-up of sectarian violence since the beginning of May has forced 68,000 people to flee conflict-ravaged areas while another 20,000 have crossed into neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo as refugees over the past two weeks alone, the UN refugee agency said.
That brings the number of internally displaced people in CAR to over 500,000, and the number of refugees in neighbouring DRC to over 120,000, UN figures show.
"Significant rebel activity in towns along the DRC border as well as rumours of possible attacks are pushing people to flee," UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch told reporters in Geneva, saying many of the displaced were sleeping in the open or in makeshift shelters.
On May 13, at least 108 people were slaughtered and 76 injured during the attack by several hundred fighters on Bangassou, a town near the DRC border that until now had largely been spared from violence, UN and Red Cross figures show.
Baloch said UNHCR desperately needed more funds to help the displaced, indicating that so far it has received just six percent of the $209 million it needs to provide aid in CAR this year.
Humanitarian access is also severely restricted in many areas due to the security situation, he said.
Baloch pointed out that "the refugees who are fleeing CAR are trying to remain close to the border in DRC hoping to be able to return soon."
UNHCR expressed particular concern for the refugees in an area near the small DRC town of Ndu, just across the Mbomou River.
"People there arrived with hardly any belongings and some were wounded and require treatment," it said, indicating that aid workers had not yet managed to bring in assistance by road due to the remoteness of the area.
The renewed sectarian bloodletting has pitted factions of the Christian anti-Balaka militia against the mainly Muslim ex-Seleka rebels, with the violence mainly targeting civilians.
The country initially descended into bloodshed in March 2013 following the overthrow of leader Francois Bozize Seleka rebels, which triggered the country's worst crisis since its independence from France in 1960.
Military intervention by France in Operation Sangaris followed by the deployment of UN troops reduced the number of atrocities, but armed bands still run wild in parts of the deeply-poor country.