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Last updateMer, 28 Jan 2015 10am

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CAR: UN refugee agency says thousands fleeing CAR

Violence in the Central African Republic (CAR) - The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says the violence in the Central African Republic (CAR) has sent thousands of people streaming into neighbouring countries.

UNHCR spokesperson, Ms. Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba, in a statement on Saturday, said nearly 9,000 people, most of them Central Africans, as well as foreign nationals from Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria and Mali have fled CAR for neighbouring Cameroon.

She said: 'That brings the number of CAR refugees in Cameroon to more than 20,000 since fighting started',  noting that the new arrivals told the agency's officials that they fled because of confrontations between the former Seleka and anti-Balaka militiamen in the capital, Bangui.

'Others fled because of fear that the anti-Balaka militiamen were advancing towards their areas,' she added.

Ms. Lejeune-Kaba also stated that most of the people registered as refugees are women and children, including 43 pregnant women, 50 lactating mothers and 89 handicapped people in need of special attention.

'The majority of them are Muslims who said they feared for their safety because of their perceived sympathy for the largely Muslim Seleka group,' she said.

Thousands of people are estimated to have been killed in CAR, and 2.2 million, about half the population, need humanitarian aid in a conflict which erupted when mainly Muslim Seleka rebels launched attacks in December 2012.

The crisis has taken on increasingly sectarian overtones as mainly Christian militias known as anti-Balaka have taken up arms.

Nearly half a million children are among the almost 1 million driven from their homes.

Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced plans to open a preliminary investigation into alleged war crimes being committed amid the ongoing sectarian bloodshed.

ICC Prosecutor, Ms. Fatou Bensouda, said that after reviewing many reports, detailing acts of extreme brutality by various groups and allegations of serious crimes, her Office will open a preliminary examination into the situation in CAR.

'Over the past months, I have issued a number of public statements urging all groups in the Central African Republic engaged in the ongoing conflict to immediately cease the violence, warning them that those alleged to be committing heinous crimes falling within the jurisdiction of the ICC could be held individually accountable,' she said in a statement.

She noted that the plight of civilians in CAR since September 2012 'has gone from bad to worse', adding that the information she has received concerning these alleged crimes and the profound human suffering they cause was 'deeply concerning'.

'The allegations include hundreds of killings, acts of rape and sexual slavery, destruction of property, pillaging, torture, forced displacement and recruitment and use of children in hostilities,' Ms. Bensouda said.

She also said that, in many incidents, the victims appear to have been deliberately targeted on religious grounds.

In light of such disturbing allegations, the ICC prosecutor said that her Office’s further efforts will be aimed at gathering and analyzing all the information necessary to determine whether there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation into this new situation.

'My Office’s efforts will be coordinated with those of the African Union and the United Nations in CAR,' she said.

Ms. Bensouda further added that, in conformity with the complementarity principle, the ICC will also be engaging with the CAR authorities with a view to discussing ways and means to bring perpetrators to account, including at the national level.

Pana 09/02/2014