Militia fighters attacked, kidnapped and raped a large group of women in an isolated area of Central African Republic last month, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said.
The medical charity treated 10 survivors of the violence near Kiriwiri in the country’s north-west. Fearing further attacks if they tried to reach a hospital, the women were unable to seek medical treatment until about two weeks later, it said.
Other victims remained behind, fearing, as rape victims, they would be stigmatised in their community.
“Some were totally in shock, others paralysed by fear or unable to talk about the incident. Some of the women had open wounds caused by blades,” said Soulemane Amoin, a midwife at the hospital in Bossangoa where the women were treated.
“It was terrible to see. It broke my heart.”
Central African Republic descended into chaos after mainly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted president Francois Bozize in 2013, provoking a spate of killing by Christian anti-balaka militias.
Despite the deployment of a 12,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission, rival armed groups still stalk much of the countryside. The UN Security Council approved an extra 900 peacekeepers in November to help to protect civilians.
Gabon, which contributes around 550 soldiers to the mission, announced it was planning to withdraw its contingent, citing a “progressive return of peace and stability”.
The rapes near Kiriwiri coincided with a surge in violence in Bossangoa and surrounding areas.
In its statement, MSF said the women had left their village to fetch water and tend to their fields when the militiamen arrived. Some women fled, but others were grabbed and brought back to the militia’s base where they were repeatedly raped before being let go, it said.
MSF did not identify the group behind the assault.
“This attack is a consequence of the new wave of senseless violence that broke out at the end of 2016 and continues without let-up,” said Paul Brockmann, who heads MSF’s mission in Central African Republic.
The hospital at Bossangoa has treated 56 rape victims since September, up from 13 in the previous eight months, MSF said.
It treated around 300 victims of rape and sexual assault from around the country each month so far this year at its main hospital in Bangui.