Thousands shelter in hospital after militants burn refugee camp in Central African Republic

by Kieran Guilbert | KieranG77 | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 10 August 2017 14:55 GMT

People queue for food aid distribution delivered by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and world food program in the village of Makunzi Wali, Central African Republic, April 27, 2017. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

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Militia violence has intensified across Central African Republic this year

DAKAR, Aug 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Thousands of people uprooted by violence in Central African Republic are taking refuge in a hospital after armed groups looted and burned a camp for the displaced, medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said on Thursday.

At least 10,000 people are staying on the grounds of the hospital in the town of Batangafo - 400 kilometres (250 miles) north of the capital Bangui - nearly two weeks after fighting broke out between rival groups, according to the charity.

The camp for the displaced was attacked and several aid groups were looted during two waves of violence which left 24 people dead and 17 injured as of the start of August, MSF said.

"The people taking refuge in the hospital ... are still unable to rebuild their shelters in the camp," MSF project coordinator Carlos Francisco said in a statement.

The medical charity said it was providing basic water and sanitation services for the displaced, and that health services were running as normal after being disrupted by the fighting.

"Much of the general population is in a state of complete helplessness," Francisco added. "Imagine what the situation must be like when people think that the only safe option left to them is a hospital ... knowing that not even hospitals are safe."

Hospitals in the southeastern towns of Bangassou and Zemio have been targeted by militant groups in recent months - with armed men abducting two patients who were later found dead, and shooting and killing a baby being held by its mother, MSF said.

Six Red Cross volunteers were killed last week in an attack on a health centre in southeastern Gambo, the aid group said, adding that civilians and health workers may have also died.

Thousands have died and a fifth of Central Africans - nearly 1 million - have fled their homes in an ethnic and religious conflict that broke out after mainly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in 2013, provoking a backlash from Christian militias.

Militia violence has intensified across Central African Republic this year as splinter groups clash over control of land and resources, sparking fears of a return to the large-scale chaos that gripped the country at the peak of a 2013 civil war.

United Nations aid chief Stephen O'Brien on Monday told a U.N. briefing that the "warning signs of genocide are there".

O'Brien last month told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that the country has "the worst level of humanitarian needs per capita', as about one in two people - 2.2 million - need aid.

(Writing By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)