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Christians in Central African Republic continue to flee as violence heats up

(Reuters/Siegfried Modola)A general view shows a part of the temporary camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) at the airport of the capital Bangui, January 13, 2014.

Christians in the Central African Republic (CAR) are still fleeing to neighboring countries amid surging violence and political instability in the landlocked nation.

According to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the displacement of people are now at its highest level since the violence erupted in CAR In 2013.

"Data as of the end of December shows that 688,700 people were displaced internally – 60 per cent more than just a year ago," Adrian Edwards, UNHCR spokesperson, told reporters at a briefing in Geneva last week.

As many as 542,380 CAR refugees have fled to neighboring countries, a 12 percent increase from the previous year.

"For a country whose population is estimated at around 4.6 million, these two figures combined represent an astonishing level of suffering and people in need," Edwards added.

Yazinon Florence was one of many Christians who have fled to a camp for internally displaced people near Bangui M'Poko International Airport amid the conflict as she believed the French peacekeepers would protect her there.

"What alerted me were detonations and rocket launchers. I saw Muslim women slaughtering Christian women and their babies with sharp knives like animals. They even killed a pregnant woman in front of me," Florence told The Washington Times.

Florence's hope of being kept safe in the camp was dashed when the French peacekeepers left in 2016 and handed over their duties to the 13,700-strong "stabilization" mission, known as MINUSCA.

"Now we are abandoned in this neighborhood without any security and exposed to attacks from Muslims," said Kongbe Simone, who lost three of his 10 children during an attack on his Bangui neighborhood a few years ago.

The conflict began when the mainly Muslim Séléka rebel coalition clashed with the predominately Christian anti-Balaka militia after then-president Francois Bozize was overthrown in 2013.

After President Faustin-Archange assumed power in 2016 during a lull in the fighting, his government offered $91 to displaced people at the airport camp and other IDP facilities to go home or find other housing.

Florence used the money to rent a small two-room house, but she said she cannot keep up with rent payments. She and her family are relying on food rations from aid workers and the vegetables that she grows on a vacant land.

"We also have to eat. It's really difficult. ... In the neighborhood where we used to live, the Fulani currently occupy our house," she recounted.

The Fulani, a Muslim ethnic group who have occupied homes evacuated by Christians, often clash with homeowners who have returned to reclaim their property.

Albert Kongbe, 18, said that one of his neighbors was attacked by the Fulani in August while attempting to reclaim his home in Yambassa, a district of Bangui.

A MINUSCA soldier from Cameroon who asked to remain anonymous noted that Kongbe's experience was quite common, noting that the situation in CAR is still "tense" and people are still "thirsty for revenge."

The UNHCR reported that more than 17,000 Central Africans have fled to Chad since the end of December due to the recent surge in violence. The latest figure was 10 times more than the number of Central Africans displaced during the whole of 2017, making it the biggest refugee influx since 2014.

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