A Burundi U.N. peacekeeper was killed in an ambush in the Central African Republic on Thursday, the U.N.’s Minusca mission announced on Friday, August 24.
The latest deadly attack brings to six the number of blue helmets killed in CAR this year, and comes just days before armed groups are due to discuss a list of demands with an African Union panel that aims to broker peace.
The ambush, believed to be carried out by anti-Balaka militants, occurred on Thursday evening in Pavika, a village around 22 kilometres (14 miles) from the town of Alindao in the centre of the country, Minusca said in a statement.
Armed men “attacked Minusca personnel who were assuring the security of a truck belonging to a contractor of the mission,” the statement said.
“Blue helmets from the [Minusca] Force’s forward military post at Pavika were sent as reinforcements at around 8:20 pm and they were ambushed by another anti-Balaka group along the way,” Minusca said. “During the exchange of fire, a blue helmet was mortally wounded.”
Minusca said that peacekeepers returned fire and the perpetrators were “buried.”
Thursday’s incident is the second deadly attack on peacekeepers in the Alindao area in recent months. On May 17, a Mauritanian peacekeeper was killed and eight others injured in an attack on a U.N. convoy south of Alindao that was also blamed on anti-Balaka militants.
Armed groups present demands
This week media reported that CAR’s armed groups will present dozens of demands to an African Union expert panel seeking to broker peace in the country. On August 27, the armed groups will seek to “harmonize” their demands in meetings with the A.U. panel before they submit a final list to the government.
RJDH reported that the list includes 12 “non-negotiable” demands, including the development of a national dialogue that will lead to constitutional change and a means for the armed groups to transform into political organisations. They also want a review of military deals with Russia and South Africa, and a general amnesty for fighters.
Five human rights organizations united in opposition to an amnesty for the armed groups which they said “would be incompatible with the government’s duty to bring those responsible for grave international crimes to justice.”
“The armed groups at the negotiating table are suspected of having committed numerous grave abuses against civilians, such as murder, rape, sexual slavery, torture, looting, persecution and destruction of religious buildings,” they said.
Attacks across CAR
According to AFP, there have been a number of attacks on peacekeepers over the past week. On August 18, three blue helmets were injured in an anti-Balaka attack in Mbres in the centre of the country, and two days later, peacekeepers were fired on by members of the ex-Seleka FPRC group in Bria, in the east.
The most recent deadly attack on peacekeepers was on June 12, when another Burundian peacekeeper was killed in clashes in Bambari and a second peacekeeper seriously injured in an incident blamed on the ex-Seleka armed group the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic (UPC).
In an separate incident in Bambari the same day, two Central African Republic soldiers and a Russian advisor were wounded in an attack also blamed on the UPC.
Russian advisors work with CAR’s military and provide security and advice for President Faustin-Archange Touadera. Further strengthening their ties, Russia and the Central African Republic signed a military cooperation agreement on August 21. Russia’s deputy defense minister said the pact was a “framework agreement” that includes the exchange of delegations, mutual visits and the education of CAR personnel in Russian military institutes.
The pact was signed three weeks after three Russian journalists were murdered near Sibut in late July. The journalists were in CAR to investigate Wagner, a shadowy Russian private military contractor group, and its possible relation to both government and armed groups.
CAR authorities and Russia have characterised the motive for the mysterious killings as robbery, but Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky who funded the investigation has claimed this argument “does not stand up to scrutiny”.
A country in crisis
Despite rich reserves of diamonds, gold and uranium, Central African Republic is one of the world’s poorest countries. The majority-Christian country descended into violence following the ousting by the Seleka coalition of Muslim-majority rebel groups of President Francois Bozize in 2013. a former general, Bozize himself seized power in a coup in 2003.
Seleka was officially disbanded within months, but many fighters refused to disarm, becoming known as ex-Seleka. Many others joined the mainly Christian anti-Balaka militia to fight the Seleka, leading to a spiral of violence between groups along both religious and ethnic lines.
By the end of 2014, the country was de facto partitioned – anti-Balaka in the southwest and ex-Seleka in the northeast.
Violence by both sides led to thousands of deaths. Nearly 700,000 people are displaced, 570,000 have fled the country and 2.5 million are in need of humanitarian aid, according to the United Nations.
Touadera’s weak government controls around a fifth of the country and relies heavily on the United Nations peacekeeping mission, Minusca, for support. The rest is controlled by at least 14 different militia groups who often fight each other for control of revenue from extortion, roadblocks or mineral resources.
In April, Touadera called for more peacekeepers to be deployed, and for the Minusca mission to transition from peacekeeping to peace enforcement. He also said he wanted to “accelerate” the disarmament of members of armed groups.
With reporting from AFP