By Kieran Guilbert
DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A record number of people - more than 1.1 million - have been uprooted in Central African Republic by spiralling violence between armed groups which threatens to plunge the country back into full-blown conflict, the United Nations said on Friday.
A surge in militia fighting in several hotspots since May has driven the number of people seeking refuge in neighbouring nations to more than 500,000, while about 600,000 are displaced within the country, the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) said.
This represents the highest number of people forced from their homes since the conflict erupted in 2013, when the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted the president, provoking a backlash from Christian anti-balaka militias, according to UNHCR.
With at least a fifth of the population now displaced, U.N. peacekeepers and national security forces are struggling to contain the rising violence, a U.N. report said last week.
"Fresh and fierce clashes between armed groups have wrought increasing suffering, deaths and destruction," UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic said in a statement. "If the violence goes unchecked, this could fully reverse progress towards recovery."
Nearly one in two people in Central African Republic - more than 2.2 million - need aid amid the rising violence, says the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Yet several aid agencies such as Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) and Plan International have been forced to temporarily suspend their operations in recent months, as militants loot humanitarian compounds, attack staff and raid health facilities.
Central African Republic is among the world's most dangerous countries for aid workers - who have been attacked on about 200 occasions so far this year - OCHA's country head Joseph Inganji told the Thomson Reuters Foundation last month.
The country's humanitarian response plan for 2017 has been less than a third funded - $148 million of a requested $497 million - the U.N.'s Financial Tracking Service (FTS) shows.
"The consequences could be disastrous, if there are no further resources to meet the mounting needs," Mahecic said.
(Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)