The United Nations’s refugee agency has said that approximately 210,000 people have been displaced in the capital of the Central African Republic, Bangui, in the past two weeks as a result of sectarian violence.
Central Africans have been running away from the fighting between Muslims and Christians in the country, where France has around 1,600 troops, acting with the African Union-led forces on the ground.
Humanitarian organisations say that at least 500 people have been killed in Bangui in December in killing sprees on civilians by both sides.
“In Bangui, our staff are reporting continued shooting and a mood of widespread fear,” a UNHCR spokesman said on Tuesday.
“We continue to hear of attacks against Christians by former Seleka [mostly Muslim disbanded militias] with looting, killing and houses being set on fire.”
The agency also said that hundreds have risked their lives by fleeing the country by boat across a branch of the Congo River.
The UN World Food Program said on Tuesday that it was resuming food delivery to about 40,000 people near the Bangui airport after the security situation forced the work to stop over the weekend.
The agency also warned that up to a quarter of the mineral-rich nation’s 5.2 million population risks going hungry.
The UN has been criticised for its response to the crisis, but Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday said the international organisation is scaling up its humanitarian response.
Paris asks for EU support
Meanwhile, France’s European Affairs Minister Thierry Repentin said that Belgium could send troops at the end of January to prop up a 1,600-strong French force.
“There’s also talk of Germany, of Britain,” he had added.
However, later Repentin backtracked and said he was “actually only referring to logistical support from Britain and Germany, which has already been provided” with transport planes.
European nations including Poland, Britain, Spain and Belgium have provided various forms of assistance on the crisis in the CAR. However, French troops are not militarily supported by any other European army in the CAR.
Diplomats said the ground troops involved could come from Belgium and Poland and may be used to relieve French forces who are securing the airport in Bangui, according to Reuters news agency.
Amnesty calls for more troops
London-based rights group Amnesty International warned that more troops were urgently needed to protect residents in the capital where it said war crimes had been committed.
“The continuing violence, the extensive destruction of property, and the forced displacement of the population in Bangui are feeding enormous anger, hostility and mistrust,” Amnesty’s Christian Mukosa said on Tuesday.
The fighting in the former French colony is between the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels – originally from neighbouring Chad and Sudan – and the Christian anti-Balaka whose name means “anti-machete”, the weapon of choice for Seleka.
The Christian fighters oppose the Muslim ex-rebels in charge of the CAR since March.
Michel Djotodia, rebel leader-turned interim president, has largely lost control of his loose band of fighters, who ended up being disbanded.