New York, US - UN agencies on Friday expressed alarm at the increasing rate of human rights violations in the Central African Republic (CAR), following reports of burnt and abandoned villages, massive displacement, as well as looting and torture.
PANA in New York reported that members of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), along with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), travelled last week to the town of Paoua, 500 kilometres north of the capital, Bangui.
They found seven villages burnt to the ground and deserted and the eighth partially burnt with villagers hiding in the bush.
UNHCR spokesperson, Ms. Melissa Fleming, who spoke with reporters in Geneva, monitored by PANA correspondent at the UN headquarters in New York, said: 'Local people spoke of physical assaults, extortion, looting, arbitrary arrest and torture by armed men'.
'The villagers said their actions may have been in retaliation for a clash last month with self-defence groups who were trying to protect their families and property,' she disclosed.
She also said: 'In general, civilians are basically at the mercy of a security vacuum in CAR, which has led to a proliferation of armed groups, vigilante groups and people are just at the mercy of anyone with a gun'.
Ms. Fleming said UNHCR had registered over 3,000 displaced persons in the region, adding to the estimated total of at least 206,000 displaced across the country since December.
The spokesperson also said that tens of thousands more have fled to Chad and Cameroon.
She said that people are staying away from the roads to avoid detection, while rains are making living conditions even worse.
She, however, disclosed that the UNHCR is distributing tarpaulins, mosquito nets, kitchen sets and other supplies to displaced people, while the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) are also delivering aid, shelter and survival supplies to affected communities.
Ms. Fleming further noted that the UN refugee agency has appealed to the authorities in the Central African Republic and all armed groups to protect civilians and allow aid agencies to reach people in need.
PANA recalled that CAR, which has been marked by decades of instability and fighting, witnessed a resumption of violence last December when the Seleka rebel coalition launched a series of attacks.
A peace agreement was reached in January, but the rebels again seized the capital, Bangui, in March, forcing President Francois Bozize to flee.
The recent fighting has further eroded even the most basic services in the country and exacerbated an already dire humanitarian situation affecting the entire population of 4.6 million people, half of whom are children.
Currently, 1.6 million people are in dire need of assistance, including food, protection, health care, water, sanitation and shelter.