By G9ija

More than 200,000 people have fled fighting in the Central African Republic since violence erupted over a December election result, the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Friday, with nearly half crossing into the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The CAR army, backed by U.N., Russian and Rwandan troops, has been battling rebels that are seeking to overturn a Dec. 27 vote in which President Faustin-Archange Touadera was declared the winner.

“Refugees have told UNHCR that they fled in panic when they heard gun shots, leaving their belongings behind,” spokesman Boris Cheshirkov told journalists in Geneva.

About 92,000 refugees have reached DRC and more than 13,000 have crossed into Cameroon, Chad and the Republic of Congo. The rest are displaced inside the Central African Republic.

Ongoing attacks has hampered humanitarian access and the main road used to bring supplies has been forced shut inside the country and many are now facing “dire conditions”, Cheshirkov said.

Some of the displaced have agreed to sex in return for food because they are so desperate, he added. Malaria, respiratory tract infections, and diarrhoea have become common.

He also voiced concern about the reported presence of armed groups in the Batangafo and Bria camps for the displaced.

“Those armed groups are trying in some cases to restrict movements and in some cases forcibly recruit. So this is a very concerning situation,” he told the briefing.