UN says 935,000 flee conflict in CAfrica

AFP , Friday 3 Jan 2014

Central Africa
People displaced by violence attempt to create a semblance of daily life, in a sprawling camp at Mpoko Airport, in Bangui, Central African Republic, Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014 (Photo: AP)

The number of people uprooted by conflict in the Central African Republic is nearing one million, with half of the residents of the capital Bangui driven from their homes, the United Nations said Friday.

"The humanitarian situation in the Central African Republic remains dire, as insecurity is making the delivery of humanitarian relief ever more difficult and as the number of people displaced within the country has now surpassed 935,000," said Babar Baloch, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

The figure includes those who fled their homes during a March 2013 coup and earlier strife, as well as ongoing sectarian clashes, he said, adding that many were children.

Baloch told reporters that attacks on civilians, looting and the presence of armed groups in locations to which people have fled were severely limiting aid agencies' access to those in urgent need.

The Central African Republic, already chronically unstable, plunged into chaos after mainly Muslim Seleka rebels staged the coup last year.

Last month, French troops intervened to try to stem resurging violence pitting former rebels against militias from the country's Christian majority bolstered by fighters loyal to the ousted regime.

The violence in the resource-rich but impoverished country is believed to have killed more than 1,000 people last month and sent tens of thousands fleeing.

"Some 512,672 people are currently sheltering in 67 sites in the capital, Bangui, or living with host families. This represents more than half of Bangui's total population. Some 60 percent of those displaced are children," Baloch said.

Over the past week, the number of people crammed around Bangui's airport in search of safety has doubled to 100,000, Baloch said.

While the airport itself is secured by French troops, enabling aid supplies to be flown in, humanitarian organisations have struggled to maintain operations even in its immediate area due to looting and violence.

"Improved security is essential for humanitarian workers to reach the displaced," said Baloch.

A total of 1,600 French troops and around 4,000 African peacekeepers are attempting to curb the strife.

Baloch said "more troops and effective operational coordination" was needed for the African force, which could grow to 6,000 with the deployment of Congolese and Rwandan soldiers.

Since last March, a total of 75,000 Central Africans have also fled abroad, to the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo, Chad and Cameroon, lifting the global number of refugees from the country to 240,000.

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