- Count includes those who have fled since clashes between rebels, government started last year
- U.N.: More than 30,800 of the refugees have fled to neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo
- Rebels sized Central African Republic's capital and ousted president last month
The number of civilians who have fled from the Central African Republic since a conflict began there in December has risen to 37,000, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said Friday.
More than 30,800 of them have sought refuge in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the U.N. People continue to go there and other nearby nations, the agency said.
"Over the last two weeks our offices have reported fresh arrivals into Chad, Cameroon and Democratic Republic of the Congo," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told journalists in Geneva.
A coalition of rebels ousted the Central African Republic's president, Francois Bozize, last month, the latest in a series of coups since the nation gained independence from France in 1960.
Last year, several rebel groups under the umbrella name of Seleka started seizing parts of the country.
In January, the rebels and the government brokered a peace deal that included a cease-fire and an agreement to form a unity government led by Bozize. But that deal fell apart as the rebel coalition pushed its way from its base in the north toward Bangui, seizing towns along the way.
The U.N. refugee agency said it is working with authorities in the countries where the refugees are arriving to provide protection and assistance. UNHCR teams are distributing aid and setting up emergency shelters, Edwards said.
"Many left their homes in a hurry and were unable to bring personal belongings with them. People are either without places to live or being accommodated by local families -- who themselves live in extreme poverty," Edwards said.