BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — At least one peacekeeper was killed and another two were injured on Friday in two successive attacks by armed rebels near the town of Grimari in Central African Republic, the United Nations Mission in the country said.
Members from a coalition of armed rebels staged the attacks while peacekeepers from both Burundi and Bangladesh were carrying out a security operation around Grimari, more than 200 kilometers (120 miles) northeast of the capital, Bangui. The Burundian peacekeeper was killed in the second ambush, and two Bangladeshi peacekeepers injured during the attacks and are receiving treatment, the U.N. mission in Central African Republic said in a statement.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that the attack “may constitute a war crime” and called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
The U.N. chief also reiterated “his deep concern over the continued destabilization efforts by armed groups throughout the country” and called on all parties ”immediately to stop the violence and resolve their differences through peaceful means,” Dujarric said.
A sharp increase in violence in the past few weeks has forced more than 60,000 people to flee the country, seeking refuge in Cameroon, Congo and other neighboring countries, the United Nations Refugee Agency said.
Congo has received the highest number of refugees — about 50,000 since December, which includes about 10,000 that arrived on Wednesday when the rebel coalition staged attacks on the outskirts of Bangui, the U.N. agency said. However, Cameroon has also seen an increase in the number of families, especially women and children, coming from Central African Republic, it added.
“In the beginning when they came in, they said it was a preventive movement, they were afraid because they remembered the violence that they have experienced in 2013,” said Helen Ngoh Ada, spokeswoman for the U.N. Refugee Agency in Cameroon. “Lately, those who have been coming in have been saying that they came traumatized basically, and they experienced some form of abuse, human rights violations, and that’s why they fled,” she said during an interview with The Associated Press.
People are allowed to cross from Central African Republic to Cameroon, but the borders are closed for traders and trucks and supplies have not entered into Central African Republic for several days, said Ngoh Ada. “It means that the livelihoods of people in the Central African Republic are threatened, and that will be one of the reasons why people would be crossing over into Cameroon” she added.
On Wednesday security forces repelled attacks by rebels trying to seize Bangui, after intense fighting on the city’s outskirts in a major escalation of violence that has rocked the country since last month.
At least one Rwandan peacekeeper was killed and another injured, said the United Nations. The Prime Minister of Central African Republic, Firmin Ngrebada, said at least 30 rebels also died.
The rebels are protesting the reelection on Dec. 27 of President Faustin-Archange Touadera. Following the Jan. 4 announcement of Touadera’s victory, the rebel coalition threatened to take the capital. They had also taken towns in other parts of the country before the election.
The army is supported in its battle against the rebels by forces from Rwanda, Russia, France and the United Nations.
The mineral-rich Central African Republic has faced deadly inter-religious and inter-communal fighting since 2013, when predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power from former president Francois Bozize after long claiming marginalization. Resistance to Seleka rule eventually led to Muslims being targeted en masse, with some beaten to death, mosques destroyed and tens of thousands forced from the capital in 2014.
Bozize has been blamed for inflaming the violence in the Central African country in the last weeks, which erupted after the constitutional court rejected his candidacy in December.
Fisch reported from Dakar, Senegal.