“Worsening” election violence in the Central African Republic (CAR) has forced 120,000 people from their homes, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Friday, as the UN Secretary-General also condemned another attack by combatants on a UN convoy, which left a peacekeeper from Burundi dead, and two others wounded.
In an appeal for an immediate end to all bloodshed - which has included deadly clashes with UN peacekeepers and Friday's attack in Ouaka prefecture - UNHCR also said that mass displacement has continued outside the country since the 27 December Presidential poll, reversing a trend of people returning to CAR in recent years.
“What is clear is the situation has evolved, it has worsened, we have seen that the number of refugees has doubled in just one week”, said spokesperson Boris Cheshirkov, during a scheduled press briefing in Geneva.
Despite attempts by rebel groups to obstruct presidential and legislative elections, on 27 December, nearly two million Central Africans successfully cast their votes.
UNHCR and partners in CAR “are gathering reports of abuses by armed groups, including of sexual violence, attacks on voters and pillaging”, Mr. Cheshirkov continued, underscoring the agency’s call “for an immediate return of all parties to meaningful dialogue and progress towards peace”.
“We were reporting 30,000 refugees last Friday, today it’s already 60,000, and much of that is the increase we’ve seen in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). This is coming with reports of intensified violence, people are being forced to move from their home and the situation has not calmed down for the moment.”
Burundian 'blue helmet' killed
Secretary-General António Guterres, strongly condemned Friday's attack by the so-called Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) armed group, on a convoy of the UN Stabilization Mission in CAR (MINUSCA) in Grimari, Ouaka prefecture. A peacekeeper from Burundi was killed and two others wounded.
"The Secretary-General expresses his deepest condolences to the family of the victim, and to the people and Government of Burundi. He wishes a speedy recovery to the injured peacekeepers", said the UN Spokesperson, in a statement.
"The Secretary-General recalls that attacks against United Nations peacekeepers may constitute a war crime. He calls on the Central African Republic authorities to spare no effort in identifying the perpetrators of these attacks so that they can be brought to justice swiftly. Attacks against peacekeepers should not go unpunished.
Mr. Guterres reiterated his "deep concern over the continued destabilization efforts by armed groups throughout the country. He calls on all parties immediately to stop the violence and resolve their differences through peaceful means.
‘Fear and dread’
Echoing concerns for the deteriorating situation, the UN-appointed independent rights expert for CAR called on Friday for the arrest and prosecution of all those “who continue to fuel violence” there.
Because of them, the country’s people live in “fear and dread”, said Yao Agbetse, before deploring the fact that Central Africans “were unable to exercise their right to vote and that many were victims of torture or ill-treatment and death threats for exercising their right to vote in the first round of elections”.
Calling out the CPC, Mr Agbetse alleged that the group had “obstructed the country’s electoral campaign in December, prevented the deployment of election materials, disrupted the mobilisation of voters to carry out their democratic right and burned polling stations”.
The CPC had also recruited children for its work, the rights expert maintained, “a crime under international law”.
Several localities were targeted, including Kaga Bandoro, Bossangoa, Batangafo, Bozoum, Bocaranga, Koui, Carnot “and other locations in the centre, west, and east of the country”, along with the capital, Bangui on 13 January, said the rights expert, who reports to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
In his statement, Mr Agbetse noted that CAR’s “already fragile humanitarian situation” had worsened, with “more than half of the population in vital need of humanitarian assistance”.
The premises of some humanitarian organisations had been ransacked, he added, while basic necessities “are becoming scarcer and their prices are soaring in Bangui because of insecurity on the supply routes to the capital”.
Today, schools and training centres are closed outside the capital “and pastoralists and farmers can no longer carry out their activities because of insecurity and fear. Ultimately, food insecurity and extreme poverty are likely to worsen,” Mr. Agbetse said.
10,000 cross in just 24 hours
On Wednesday alone, 10,000 people crossed the Ubangui river that separates the two countries, UNHCR’s Mr. Cheshirkov said.
He added that in addition to the 50,000 refugees in DRC, another 9,000 have reached Cameroon, Chad and the Republic of Congo in the past month.
In an appeal for funds, the spokesperson said the inaccessible terrain and poor infrastructure along the Ubangui river where people have sheltered, has complicated aid access.
“UNHCR was already seeking $151.5 million this year to respond to the CAR situation. The needs of the recently displaced Central Africans are mounting, and we will soon face a substantial funding shortfall,” Mr. Cheshirkov explained
Inside the Central African Republic, another 58,000 people remain displaced.