A Rwandan peacekeeper was killed and another injured in an attack on Wednesday morning by armed rebels on the outskirts of the city of Bangui in Central African Republic (CAR).
A statement by the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the CAR (MINUSCA) condemned the attack, noting that the rebels directly targeted the peacekeepers who deployed in several cities across the country.
“MINUSCA bows before the memory of this peacekeeper who fell in the service of peace in the country and expresses sincere condolences to his family and to the contingent and the Rwandan government,” it said.
“MINUSCA strongly condemns the attacks by coalition armed groups and their political allies including former President François Bozizé. The Mission holds them responsible for the consequences of this violence on the civilian population and stresses that attacks against peacekeepers can be considered as war crimes and prosecuted.”
The Rwanda Defense Forces said that plans are underway to airlift the deceased peacekeeper back to the country for burial.
“The attack was repelled but unfortunately one of ours was killed and another was injured. The injured one is in stable condition and will recover,” Lt Col Ronald Rwivanga, Spokesperson of Rwanda Defense Forces told The EastAfrican.
“Our heartfelt condolences go out to the family and friends of the deceased. We strongly condemn the attack, which clearly targeted peacekeepers in violation of international peacekeeping rules.”
Violence has gripped CAR following the presidential elections that were held on December 27, last year.
The elections were disputed by rebels allied to former President François Bozizé, whose candidacy was invalidated.
The Wednesday attack was repelled by peacekeepers together with CAR forces with the help of military helicopters, MINUSCA said.
Authorities say more than 250 foreign workers fled CAR due to fears that they are being targeted by rebels who are disgruntled by the re-election of President Faustin-Archange Touadera.
Rwanda has up to 750 peacekeepers in CAR—717 men and 33 women—who also provide security to President Touadera and government officials, on top of manning security posts and patrols in the country.
The UN mission said that the rebels suffered loss of life during the attack, while some were arrested and weapons seized.
This is the second time that peacekeepers are being killed by rebels in election related violence after three Burundian peacekeepers were killed in an ambush on December 26.
While the government and the international community declared the election a success, opposition candidates rejected the results alleging poll irregularities and violence, and are pushing for a rerun of the general election.
Rwanda last month sent a contingent of soldiers to CAR to quell election violence and protect peacekeepers, following intelligence reports that peacekeepers would be deliberately targeted by the rebels.
The new contingent of Rwandan soldiers – sent under a bilateral agreement with CAR – are not constrained by UN rules of engagement that prevent UN troops from directly exchanging fire with rebels.
According to the humanitarian organisation Relief Web, election-related violence in CAR has revealed “major vulnerabilities that require rethinking the role MINUSCA and international stakeholders.”
“The biggest weakness exposed by the polls is that 11,000 UN troops weren’t enough to secure the vote across the country. It took the deployment of additional Russian instructors and Rwandan soldiers to help stabilise some of the voting operations,” Relief Web said.
Up to 632,000 people have fled CAR to neighbouring countries due to the escalating violence.