KINSHASA (AFP) – More than 8,500 refugees have fled the Central African Republic for the Democratic Republic of Congo since last week for fear of attacks by rebels, a Congolese official said Thursday.
Between February 7 and 13, “8,646 people have fled Mobaye”, a Central African border town close to positions held by the rebel Seleka coalition, which signed a peace accord with the government last month, Willy Isekusu, local district commissioner for DR Congo’s North Ubangi province, told AFP.
“According to several sources, we now have more than 11,000 Central African refugees in several parts of North Ubangi”, added Simplice Kpandji, a spokesman for the United Nations’ refugee agency in Kinshasa.
A large number of the refugees are children, many of them unaccompanied, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
UN agencies on Thursday began an evaluation mission, mainly to consider setting up a humanitarian site and establish a crossing place for the refugees. Many of those who have fled are being hosted by Congolese families.
Refugees started crossing the Oubangui river, which forms part of the 800-kilometre (500-mile) border, on February 7 to flee shooting blamed on the Seleka coalition, which last Friday acknowledged that there had been an incident but said it was over.
Isekusu said at the time that the shooting had rapidly stopped, but added that it was “fear of the unknown” which was driving refugees into neighbouring DR Congo.
On Wednesday, Isekusu said the exodus was still going on because of unidentified assailants who were looting and carrying out atrocities.
Forces of the Seleka — which means “alliance” — took up arms against President Francois Bozize’s regime in mid-December and came within striking distance of the capital Bangui in the unstable and impoverished country.
Leaders in the central African region helped to bring about peace talks, which led to an accord in Gabon’s capital Libreville on January 11. Under that agreement, Seleka members were granted posts in a national unity government.