Three United Nations peacekeepers have been killed by unidentified combatants in attacks across three different locations in the Central African Republic (CAR), the UN Secretary-General’s spokesperson said in a statement.
The attacks, which also saw two people wounded, took place in Dekoa, central Kemo Prefecture, and in Bakouma, in the southern Mbomou Prefecture.
The country is currently embroiled in a violence-hit general election campaign as fighting continues between rebels and government forces.
READ | Central African Republic accuses ex-president Bozize of coup plot
Possible war crime
The UN released a statement saying it “strongly condemns today’s attacks by unidentified armed combatants on Central African national defense and security forces, and the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission.”
The statement attributed to UN chief Antonio Guterres continued: “The Secretary-General expresses his deepest condolences to the families of the deceased peacekeepers. He wishes a speedy recovery to the injured.”
“The Secretary-General recalls that attacks against United Nations peacekeepers may constitute a war crime. He calls on the Central African Republic authorities to investigate these heinous attacks and swiftly bring perpetrators to justice.”
Secretary-General @antonioguterres strongly condemns today’s attacks by unidentified armed combatants on Central African national defense & security forces, and @UN_CAR peacekeepers: https://t.co/6GHMbXez96
— UN Spokesperson (@UN_Spokesperson) December 26, 2020
Touadera is considered the favourite in the field of 17 candidates. His main challenger is Anicet Georges Dologuele, a former prime minister who finished runner-up in 2016 and is supported by Bozize. The election will go to a second round if no candidate receives over 50% of the vote.
On the campaign trail, Touadera has touted advances rebuilding state institutions and rejected opposition calls to delay the election.
“There is no institutional crisis. We must simply go on with the election,” he said last week.
Touadera and the United Nations, which has over 12,800 uniformed peacekeepers in CAR, have accused Bozize of being behind the rebel offensive, which briefly seized the country’s fourth largest city last week and has led to a wave of desertions from the army.
Bozize’s candidacy was rejected because he faces an arrest warrant and U.N. sanctions for allegedly ordering assassinations and torture while president.
Bozize has denied those charges and his party has said he has nothing to do with the latest rebel offensive.
Touadera’s international security partners have responded to the latest violence by sending additional troops and equipment, including 300 Russian military instructors and 300 Rwandan peacekeepers.
The incident occurred shortly after a rebel coalition called off a ceasefire, saying it would resume its march on the capital.
Former president accused
The killings took place ahead of Sunday’s first-round vote to elect the president and National Assembly.
If no candidate for head of state receives more than 50% of the vote, a runoff will take place in mid-February.
Ahead of the polls, 63-year-old incumbent President Faustin Archange Touadera has accused his predecessor Francois Bozize of plotting a coup.
Bozize — who is under UN sanctions and barred from running — denies the charges.
DW spoke to the UN’s Special Representative to CAR, Mankeur Ndiaye, who pointed the finger at Bozize over recent violence in the country.
Ndiaye accused the former president of trying to disrupt the electoral process. He said: “The armed groups are doing this in alliance with Francois Bozize with the aim of blocking the electoral process and preventing citizens from collecting their voting cards and going to the polling stations to vote on 27 December.”
The oil-rich nation has been at the center of a fierce conflict for years, with clashes between a predominantly Muslim rebel coalition and Christian militias after Bozize was toppled in 2013.
A French military intervention together with a UN peace mission temporarily stabilized the country with a peace agreement signed in 2019, but there are recurring flare-ups of violence.
The recent increase in brutality has prompted Russia and Rwanda to deploy military consultants and troops in the landlocked country.