BANGUI, Central African Republic – A series of attacks in remote areas of Central African Republic have forced more than 15,000 people to flee their homes over the past week while at least 130 are feared dead, authorities said Tuesday.
Among the victims are six U.N. peacekeepers, marking the deadliest month for the mission since it began in 2014.
The U.N. high commissioner for human rights warned that the violence in areas previously spared major sectarian bloodshed was "highly worrying."
"The hard-earned relative calm in Bangui and some of the bigger towns in CAR risks being eclipsed by the descent of some rural areas into increasing sectarian violence, with defenseless civilians — as usual — paying the highest price," Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said.
Gen. Balla Keita, commander of the U.N. mission, said at least 30 people were killed and 32 wounded when militia fighters from a predominantly Christian group known as the anti-Balaka attacked the southeastern town of Bangassou over the weekend.
It was the first death toll given since the attack apart from the confirmation of the peacekeepers' deaths. Humanitarian agencies have called it impossible to retrieve corpses from the streets because of the ongoing insecurity.
The U.N. mission noted that "deliberate attacks in Bangassou, with heavy weaponry, seem to be well-planned as the perpetrators made access very difficult by destroying bridges and blocking all accessible roads to town," said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general.
Humanitarian agencies indicated more than 7,200 people fled Bangassou after the weekend fighting sparked by the anti-Balaka attack. An unknown number of people fled toward the border with Congo.
Meanwhile, the U.N. said unconfirmed reports suggest up to 100 were killed in attacks in the town of Alindao. Some 8,500 people have been displaced by violence there, Dujarric said.
These areas of Central African Republic did not experience major violence during the sectarian bloodshed that erupted in late 2013 and ultimately forced nearly all of the Muslims in the capital, Bangui, to flee to the country's north and beyond to neighboring Chad.
Fighting has mounted, however, and last month Doctors Without Borders warned of "levels of violence that have not been seen since the peak of the conflict in 2014."
Zeid, the U.N. human rights chief, said the death toll prior to the attacks on Alindao and Bangassou already was at least 121 since March.
In Bangui, dozens of people held a demonstration against the violence in the southeast. Prime Minister Simplice Mathieu Sarandji assured those protesting that the government would punish those responsible.
"There are widows and orphans in front of us today," he said. "These people only want one thing: that justice is done."
Larson reported from Dakar, Senegal. Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed.