Hundreds of people in northwest Central African Republic have fled their villages following fresh violence between armed groups, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said Sunday.
Villagers fled gunfire and machete attacks to arrive in the small town of Paoua, where thousands of people have already sought refuge since fighting erupted in the region in November.
"There are clashes at almost every point all around Paoua. We have seen hundreds of people flee their villages to take refuge in Paoua" since Wednesday, said Jean Hospital, MSF's project coordinator in the region.
"We received civilians who were directly targeted by gunfire or were attacked with machetes, while others are collateral victims of the clashes," he added.
Rival armed groups the National Movement for the Liberation of the Central African Republic (MNLC) and Revolution and Justice (RJ) began fighting on the outskirts of Paoua on Wednesday, following renewed violence in the region since November, sources said.
- 'We risk being raped' -
"The RJ told the population to flee and leave the roads open in case of an attack," pastor Roy-Rodrigue Doutoumbaye told AFP on Wednesday at Paoua Hospital, where he accompanied a relative shot in the head.
"They really wanted to kill me but because I had 110,000 francs (190 euros) on me they took the money and left me alive," 52-year-old Jope, who suffers from tuberculosis, told AFP.
"If we stay alone in the city we risk being raped. Our husbands have left to take care of the crops," said Marie-Angele Dembaye, as she fled to Paoua, adding that armed men began looking for women.
"The situation will become complicated very quickly because some of these people do not have any family to welcome them to Paoua," said MSF coordinator Hospital added.
According to the latest reports from the UN and the international Red Cross, there were already between 15,000 and 17,000 displaced people in Paoua by mid-December.
Mired in poverty but rich in minerals, the former French colony has been battered by a five-year conflict between rival militias that began after then-president Francois Bozize was overthrown.
Thousands of people have been killed in the fighting. According to the UN, more than a million people have fled their homes and 2.4 million people -- more than half of the Central African population -- are in need of humanitarian aid.
The country has seen an upsurge in violence since France shut down its Sangaris mission there last year, but the UN Security Council agreed in November to extend a peacekeeping mission, MINUSCA, for a year and beef up the mission with 900 extra troops.