After a relative lull in the violence seen in Central African Republic during 2013 and 2014, fighting and abuses against civilian populations have once again flared up in the east of the country. Since November 2016, at the same time as clashes opposing armed groups in Ouaka, Hautte Kotto, and Mbomou provinces, there have also been attacks targeted at civilians, often on the basis of ethnicity or religion.
The two main groups responsible for this latest upsurge in violence belonged to the former Seleka coalition. Whereas rebel group Popular Front for the Renaissance in the Central African Republic [Front Populaire pour la Paix en Centrafrique - FPRC] consists mostly of Muslim Seleka fighters, Union for Peace in the Central African Republic [Union pour la Paix en Centrafrique - UPC] is predominantly Peuhl. Ad hoc alliances have also been formed, notably between the FPRC and armed groups, such as Anti-balaka militias.
In November 2016, tensions over control of territory and resources led to fierce fighting in the town of Bria that spread to Ippy and the wider area.
In March 2017, a 45-year-old father told MSF teams: “If they find us in the bush, they will butcher us.” Forced to flee his village when it was burned down in January 2017, his story echoes many similar accounts of torched villages, abuses and killings perpetrated by the various groups involved in the conflict.
“Our teams have found mutilated bodies left exposed to terrorize populations,” says René Colgo, MSF deputy head of mission in charge of the medical response initiated on 26 March in Bakouma and Nzako.
With areas considered relatively stable for the past two years now experiencing situations of extreme violence, MSF teams are encountering traumatised civilians in villages across the region.
Forced to flee their homes, many inhabitants find themselves cut off from their fields and livelihoods. During the fighting or fearing further attacks, some hide out in the bush, surviving on whatever they can find. Others go to makeshift camps in the hope of finding protection.
People living in fear of ethnically-motivated attacks are afraid to leave their homes and neighborhoods, making it even harder for the sick and wounded to access adequate and timely treatment.