Two United Nations peacekeepers were killed after their convoy was ambushed by members of the UPC and anti-Balaka armed groups in southern Central African Republic (CAR), the UN Mission in the country said on Monday, bringing the overall toll of 'blue helmet' deaths to nine so far this month.
Secretary-General António Guterres issued a statement on Tuesday expressing his deep condolences to the families of the peacekeepers, and to the people and Governments of Gabon and Morocco, the home nations of the fallen blue helmets.
"He recalls that attacks against United Nations peacekeepers may constitute a war crime, and appeals to national authorities to investigate these incidents and bring the perpetrators to justice. The Secretary-General reiterates his grave concern over the escalation of violence in the Central African Republic. He calls on all parties to immediately cease hostilities and engage in dialogue to advance the political process, preserve fragile gains and fulfil the country’s aspiration for lasting peace."
With nine deaths so far in UN peacekeeping missions in just the first 18 days of the year, "this demonstrates yet again the perilous environment in which peacekeepers carry out their mandates to protect people and support peace processes – tasks made harder by the global pandemic", said the UN chief.
"While progress has been made in reducing casualties among United Nations peacekeepers, recent incidents show that the threats continue. Our collective efforts to ensure the safety of peacekeepers, including through the Action for Peacekeeping initiative (A4P), need to keep pace."
Mr. Guterres saluted the "service, sacrifice and selflessness of the women and men who are serving, or have lost their lives while serving, under the banner of the United Nations in some of the world’s most dangerous places.
The attack in CAR took place some 17 kilometres (about 11 miles) from Bangassou, the capital of the Mbomou prefecture. UN peacekeepers had retaken control of the city on Friday, after it was captured two weeks earlier by anti-government armed groups, amidst election unrest.
Mankeur Ndiaye, head of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in CAR (MINUSCA), 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.”
Paying a heavy price
Mr. Ndiaye, also 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 in recent weeks 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 kilometres (465 miles) from Bangui, after having retaken 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.
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 officials said .
Ms. Nderitu and Ms. Smith also reminder 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.