Two UN peacekeepers from Gabon and Morocco were killed by rebels on Monday in the Central African Republic, bringing to 7 the number of dead among the contingent of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in CAR (Minusca) since the start of the rebel offensive against the regime of President Faustin Archange Touadéra, whose re-election was officially announced during the day.
“A Gabonese and a Moroccan were killed on Monday, 17 km from Bangassou (Mbomou prefecture), in the south of the CAR, following the ambush of their convoy by elements of the coalition armed groups”, announced the MINUSCA in a press release.
UN peacekeepers had retaken control of the city on Friday, after it was captured two weeks earlier by anti-government armed groups. The rebels abandoned the positions they occupied and fled the city, after receiving an ultimatum from the UN, according to Vladimir Monteiro, spokesman for MINUSCA.
Head of MINUSCA, Mankeur Ndiaye, strongly condemned the attack and stressed that the Mission “will work with the Central African authorities to ensure that the perpetrators and accomplices of these war crimes are arrested and held accountable for their acts.”
Mr. Ndiaye, who doubles as the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for CAR, said that the UN Mission “has paid a heavy price” in the service of peace.
MINUSCA has lost seven peacekeepers since anti-Balaka, 3R, MPC and Unity for Peace in Central Africa (UPC) armed groups – allies of former president François Bozizé – launched coordinated and simultaneous attacks.
In spite of the challenges, the UN Mission “remains committed to pursuing its mandate of protecting civilian populations and securing elections,” he added.
Also on Monday, MINUSCA said that it continues its operations to secure Bangassou, situated about 750 kilometers from Bangui, after it retook the city from armed groups.
Robust patrols are currently being carried out in the city and its surroundings. The security situation is calm and residents are starting to return to their homes, according to the Mission.
“However, [our] forces remain on alert to prevent any action by armed groups targeting the civilian population, State authority, and peacekeepers or the return of rebels to Bangassou,” it added.
On Dec. 17, the six most powerful armed groups that had occupied two-thirds of the Central African Republic in civil war for eight years allied themselves in the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC), then announced on Dec.19, eight days before the presidential and legislative elections, an offensive aimed at preventing the re-election of President Touadéra.
However, their offensive was countered by forces far superior in number and heavily equipped. Besides some 12,000 MINUSCA peacekeepers, hundreds of Rwandan soldiers, and Russian paramilitaries dispatched at the end of December by their countries to the rescue of Touadéra and a destitute army were mobilized to drive back the offensive.
Since swearing to “march on Bangui”, the rebels have carried out sporadic but sometimes violent attacks, generally far from the capital.
Meanwhile, UN special advisers on prevention of genocide and the responsibility to protect, Alice Wairimu Nderitu and Karen Smith voiced deep concern over escalating violence that has forced over 120,000 civilians to flee their homes.
“We strongly remind those behind these attacks that their acts constitute atrocity crimes, and those with highest responsibility, including political actors will be held accountable,” the two UN officials said.
Ms. Nderitu and Ms. Smith also reminded the Government of CAR of its “primary responsibility” to protect its populations against genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.
They urged national authorities, with the support of the international community including MINUSCA, to take urgent measures to address the insecurity and protect civilians.