The United Nations says thousands of people have fled the town of Birao in the Central African Republic following fighting between rebel and government forces earlier this month.

A UN team that just visited the town, which borders Sudan's Darfur region, says the community is devastated.

UN humanitarian co-ordinator in the Central African Republic, Toby Lanzer, called his visit to Birao surrealistic andsaid it felt"like walking through a ghost town."

He said95 per cent of its 14,000 inhabitants have fled and no one knows where they've gone. Some reportedly have escaped into the bush. Others are believed to have gone as far as Sudan.

Lanzer said 70 per cent of the homes in Birao have been torched. The 600 people remaining in the town appeared deeply traumatized by their experience.

The Central African Republic has been wracked by decades of recurrent armed conflict, political instability and poor governance.

The rebels, belonging to the Union des forces démocratiques pour le rassemblement (UFDR), currently are fighting for a share of power with the central government.

In November, they captured Birao and four other towns. After about a month, the regular army, backed by French troops, regained control. But clashes between the UFDR and government continued in the region.