New Violence Hits the CAROctober 10, 2014 in Central Africa Republic
After months of relative calm, over the past week violence has increased in the Central African Republic (CAR), with one United Nations peacekeeper killed on Thursday.
UN Peacekeeper Killed
According to UN officials, a UN peacekeeper from Pakistan was killed while another soldier was severely wounded after an ambush on a joint Pakistani-Bangladeshi convoy. Seven other soldiers sustained minor injuries. This is the first casualty of the mission, which deployed to the CAR last month, effectively taking over from African-led troops deployed to the country after a March 2013 coup plunged the CAR into chaos. The head of the UN mission in the CAR, Babacar Gaye, has strongly condemned the ambush, stating “this crime against the UN peacekeepers, who are here to help the people of the Central African Republic, is unacceptable and the perpetrators will be held accountable and brought to justice.”
The death of a UN peacekeeper in the CAR comes amidst heightened concern over the UN mission in northern Mali, where a wave of attacks has killed 31 peacekeepers since July 2013. Over the past week, two separate incidents targeting the UN mission killed ten peacekeepers, sparking fears that militant groups previously ousted from the region by French and African forces are regaining strength.
Violence Increased in Bangui
The capital city Bangui was also affected by an upsurge in violence this week. According to UN sources in the capital, at least seven people were killed and dozens wounded after clashes erupted between the city’s Muslim and Christian populations. The fresh violence was apparently ignited by a grenade attack blamed on a Muslim assailant on a motorbike, followed by the murder of a taxi driver allegedly by Muslim gunmen who later set fire to several houses.
On Wednesday, witnesses reported that an angry crowd killed a Muslim man over night, decapitating and burning his corpse. Sources have reported that the motorcyclist was chased by Christian anti-balaka militiamen in the northern suburb of Gobongo after they suspected that he had thrown a grenade at a market, injuring several civilians. According to a MINUSCA official, further violence erupted in Bangui’s KM5 district on Wednesday when a “young taxi driver was killed by Muslims who then torched several homes.” A group of Muslim men then tried to advance on the capital’s northern districts but were arrested by troops. An official in the gendarmerie has reported that the renewed tensions in Bangui have killed at least five people, including the motorcyclist, the taxi driver and three others. The tensions also come as the Chistian-dominated militia requested that the country’s transitional president step down.
Heavy gunfire and explosions continued throughout the night and again on Thursday, resulting in many shops closing and residents opting to stay indoors. Officials from the Red Cross revealed Thursday that its workers have been unable to respond to calls for help after being threatened by gunmen. In a statement released Thursday, Jean-Francois Sangsue, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross’s operations in Bangui, disclosed “the threats must stop. We are asking the population to facilitate the work of Red Cross volunteers. If the threats continue we will be obliged to cease all relief activities, leaving many victims to fend for themselves.” The Red Cross has urged all those involved in the renewed violence to let aid workers do their job.
Since September 29, at least seven people have been killed in what is the latest inter-communal violence that has affected the capital city. Despite UN peacekeepers deployed throughout the city in a bid to restore calm, tensions have remained high throughout this week, with further incidents likely to occur. The latest clashes are the fiercest to occur since the UN force took over peacekeeping duties last month.