Four UN peacekeepers have been found dead and one remains missing after an attack on a convoy in the Central African Republic (CAR), United Nations officials said on Tuesday.
The UN’s MINUSCA mission said the convoy was attacked by fighters of the “anti-Balaka” armed group near Yogofongo village, more than 470km east of the capital, Bangui, close to the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo.
CAR has been plagued by conflict since early 2013, when mainly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power, triggering reprisals by Christian “anti-Balaka” militias.
MINUSCA, which had earlier announced the death of one Cambodian peacekeeper, said later on Tuesday it was “deeply saddened to confirm that three of the four peacekeepers that were missing in action since [Monday’s] attack have been found dead”.
At least eight peacekeepers, one Cambodian and seven Moroccans, were also wounded in the attack.
Eight “anti-Balaka” attackers were killed and several wounded in the crossfire, MINUSCA said.
Killing a UN peacekeeper is considered a war crime, MINUSCA spokesman Herve Verhoosel told the AFP news agency, saying the convoy comprised of police and UN military staff.
The UN sent a helicopter and soldiers to secure the area and search for the missing, while the wounded were evacuated to Bangui, MINUSCA said.
Central African Republic is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for aid agencies, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said last week, with at least 33 attacks on aid workers in the first quarter of 2017.
On Saturday, at least four international aid agencies said they were temporarily suspending their operations in northern CAR due to attacks on aid workers by armed groups, the UN said.
The Seleka and other groups have splintered after violence broke out in March 2013, prompting further fighting despite the election in March 2016 of President Faustin-Archange Touadera, which raised hopes of reconciliation.
The UN mission has 13,000 peacekeepers on the ground, but some civilians complain it does not do enough to protect them against dozens of armed groups.
Around 425,000 people have been uprooted by the fighting within CAR, some 465,000 have fled to neighbouring countries, and more than 2.2 million, nearly half the population, need humanitarian aid, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.