UNHCR blamed intensifying violence since a December 27 presidential vote for the sharp increase in refugees.
The Central African Republic’s constitutional court has confirmed President Faustin-Archange Touadera’s disputed re-election in polls last month that were marked by low turnout, as the United Nations said two peacemakers were killed by rebels in the violence-hit country.
The opposition had urged the court to order a rerun of the voting, saying insecurity and alleged irregularities had marred the process.
Touadera “is proclaimed to be re-elected president in the first round of the December 27, 2020, elections”, Chief Judge Daniele Darlan said on Monday, validating results that gave him 53.16 percent of the vote.
The court put the turnout at just 35.25 percent, a figure affected by the inability of many voters to cast their ballots. It dismissed, however, arguments that the vote lacked legitimacy.
“Part of the Central African people, who are at war, were prevented by acts of terror… and despite this, the people sent a strong and clear message to those who were terrorising them, to those who were telling them not to vote, and to the whole world,” Darlan said, reading from a statement.
Touadera, 63, first took the presidential office in 2016.
Tensions have escalated dramatically since the presidential polls, with an armed alliance opposed to Touadera’s re-election trying to invade the capital, Bangui, last week. Security forces backed by United Nations peacekeepers ultimately repelled the attack.
Al Jazeera’s Malcolm Webb, reporting from Bangui, said the threat from armed groups to invade Bangui remains.
“Armed groups control about two-thirds of the territory in the country and they are positioned just a few kilometres outside Bangui,” he said.
“Outside the headquarters of the ruling party led by Touadera, there are celebrations going on, but the end of the electoral process is certainly not the end of the story,” Webb added, noting a build-up of thousands of fighters is believed to have taken place on the edges of Bangui.
He added: “The armed groups just outside the capital city say they reject the government. They are very clear that their intent is to attack the city as they did last week and take over the government.”
In a statement late on Monday, the UN’s peacekeeping mission in the country said rebels had killed two peacekeepers.
“A Gabonese and a Moroccan [peacekeeper] were killed … following an ambush on their convoy by elements of the coalition of armed groups,” MINUSCA said in a statement, referring to a newly formed rebel alliance that mounted an attempted coup ahead of the polls.
The attack took place 17km (11 miles) from Bangassou, in the CAR’s south, it added.
Bozize blamed for violence
Former President Francois Bozize and his allies have been blamed for inciting the violence, which erupted after the constitutional court rejected his candidacy in December.
A judicial investigation has been opened into the role of Bozize, who was in exile until returning to the nation in December 2019, according to the attorney general at the Bangui Court of Appeal.
Bozize, who took power in a coup in 2003 and governed until 2013, faces an international arrest warrant for “crimes against humanity and incitement of genocide”. He also faces UN sanctions for his alleged role in supporting the armed groups that resisted Seleka rebels in 2013.
The mineral-rich CAR has faced deadly inter-religious and inter-communal fighting since 2013 when predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power from Bozize after long claiming marginalisation.
Resistance to Seleka rule eventually led to Muslims being targeted en masse, with some beaten to death, mosques destroyed and tens of thousands forced from the capital in 2014.
Touadera relies on help from UN peacekeeping forces and military support from Russia and Rwanda to keep the armed groups away from the areas of the country controlled by the government.