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BANGUI, Central African Republic, September 20 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency said on Friday that new fighting has sparked fresh displacement this week in the north-west of the troubled Central African Republic.
Heavy clashes were reported from last Saturday to Tuesday between unidentified armed groups in and around the towns of Bossembele and Bossangoa, 150 kilometres and 300 kilometres north-west of the capital Bangui respectively. "As of now, fighting appears to have subsided in the area, but the situation remains very tense," said a UNHCR spokesperson.
On Thursday, a UNHCR team arrived in Bossangoa as part of an inter-agency mission with sister UN organizations and several NGOs to assess the extent of the displacement as well as the humanitarian needs of the affected populations in the region. People they met spoke of multiple abuses by both sides in the conflict, including murder, rape, and torture.
Further north at Paoua, in Ouham-Pendé prefecture, UNHCR staff on the ground since Monday, saw new displacement and heard further accounts of human rights violations. People were fleeing from a nearby village (Benamkouna) following rumours of a retaliatory attack over the killing of a local man. Colleagues say that people are also living in fear in Paoua, where last week the town emptied after rumours of an attack.
"People told us that those who returned to their villages had to flee again, and spoke of arbitrary arrests, kidnappings, extortion and illegal taxation by armed men," the UNHCR spokesperson said.
In the village of Korozian, 35 kilometres from Paoua, UNHCR field staff heard that relatives of people who had been arrested were being forced to pay ransoms to secure their release. Five children, who had been hiding in the bush without shelter during the rainy season, were said to have died of cold and malaria.
Despite the unstable situation, UNHCR is continuing to assist displaced people in Paoua, either directly or through partner aid agencies. "We are providing aid kits consisting of tarpaulins, blankets, sleeping mats, kitchen sets, jerry cans, buckets, soap and hygienic kits for all women and girls. Our distribution started yesterday and aims to reach some 3,000 recently uprooted people," the spokesperson said.
UNHCR continues to urge all armed parties engaged in fighting in the Central African Republic to take more effective measures to protect civilians and prevent indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks.
Violence in CAR since December 2012 has uprooted an estimated 227,000 people and forced into exile another 60,800, mostly women and children, to neighbouring countries.