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Thousands flee to Cameroon amid Central African Republic violence

Nearly 9,000 people have fled to Cameroon in just over a week to escape communal bloodshed in the Central African Republic.

GENEVA: Nearly 9,000 people, mainly Muslims, have fled to Cameroon in just over a week to escape communal bloodshed in the Central African Republic, the United Nation's refugee agency said Friday.

In the past 10 days alone, 8,762 people have crossed into eastern Cameroon from strife-torn Central Africa, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokeswoman Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba told reporters in Geneva.

"The majority of them are Muslims who say they feared for their safety," she said, adding that the latest influx brought the number of Central African refugees in Cameroon to 20,000 since a coup last March.

The violence spiralled out of control when the ex-rebels from the Seleka group that seized power went rogue and carried out atrocities against the Christian majority.

The campaign of killings, rape and looting sparked revenge attacks by Christian vigilantes known as "anti-balaka" (anti-machete).

Despite the presence of French and African peacekeeping troops, violence continues in the country, and has already forced about a quarter of the population of 4.6 million from their homes.

Lejeune-Kaba said many of the new refugees in Cameroon had said they feared confrontations between the former Seleka and anti-Balaka militiamen in the capital and in other towns.

Her comments came alongside news that a mob had lynched a Muslim man Friday, hacking him to pieces after he fell off a crowded lorry taking frightened civilians out of Bangui.

It was the second lynching in three days, after uniformed troops of the Central African army on Wednesday stabbed and stoned a Muslim man to death in an attack that drew strong reactions from the UN and France.

"Muslims are leaving the country at every opportunity they get, and many are using trucks or whatever available means of transport they can find," Lejeune-Kaba said.

She said a number of trucks that had brought in food aid to Bangui this week for the UN's World Food Programme had come back across the Cameroonian border filled with fleeing civilians.

The situation in Cameroon, which even before the current crisis had been hosting 92,000 Central African refugees, was meanwhile dire.

"Living conditions are precarious for the new arrivals," Lejeune-Kaba said, pointing out that more than 60 per cent of them were children and many were staying out in the open.

The UNHCR was working with the Cameroonian government to rehabilitate a camp site, and hoped to move many there by the end of next week.

Nearly 5,000 of those who had crossed into eastern Cameroon in the past 10 days were Central African nationals, Lejeune-Kaba said, but there were also some 3,500 Chadians and 1,500 Cameroonians in the group.

She pointed out that there are still some 17,000 refugees from other nations living in the strife-torn country and many -- especially the majority Muslim Chadians -- are eager to leave.

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