Thousands flee to DRC in wake of post-election attacks in CAR
CAPE TOWN - Thousands of residents have fled Bangassou, a town in the south-east of the Central African Republic (CAR) after an attack related to the country’s presidential elections.
Residents fled when violence erupted as rebels took control of Bangassou, a city on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Sunday, a day before authorities were due to declare the results of the election.
The Central African nation opened its polling stations for presidential and legislative elections on December 27. The elections were held amid political tensions, insecurity and increased human rights violations despite the signing of a peace agreement between the government and armed rebel groups in February, 2019.
Residents had fled the city and crossed the Mbomou River to seek refuge in Ndu in the DRC, where Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is also supporting the local health centre, according to Emmanuel Lampaert, MSF head of mission.
MSF, sometimes rendered in English as Doctors Without Borders, is an international humanitarian medical organisation of French origin.
Rebel fighters allied to former president Francois Bozize attacked and partially occupied the diamond-mining town of Bangassou on Sunday, the UN mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) said in a statement.
It said its peacekeepers had been protecting the town and that the bodies of five fighters had been found. Two army soldiers were wounded.
The head of MINUSCA’s Bangassou office, Rosevel Pierre Louis, told news agency AFP that the diamond-mining town had been under attack since the early hours of Sunday and that since then the rebels have been in control of the town.
Rebels, whom the government and the UN said were backed by Bozize, launched an offensive last month after the country’s constitutional court rejected Bozize’s candidacy to challenge President Faustin-Archange Touadera, who has been re-elected in the first round of the country’s presidential election, securing more than 53% of the votes.
According to provisional results announced by the electoral commission on Monday, Touadera won an “absolute majority” with 53.92%.
However, the results must be officially validated by the Constitutional Court if there are possible appeals, Mathias Morouba, president of the National Election Authority (ANE) told a news conference in the capital, Bangui.
Bozize’s candidacy was rejected because he faces an arrest warrant and UN sanctions for allegedly ordering assassinations and torture while president.
During the day of the attack, MSF said its teams transported and urgently treated 12 wounded at the Bangassou Regional University Hospital (HRUB), a health structure that it has supported since 2014.
“MSF is increasing support to the health centre with human resources, medicines and vaccines, and we are currently analysing how to further strengthen our medical support to the displaced people in Ndu,” Lampaert said.
The attack in Bangassou is the latest in the context of a sharp deterioration in security linked to the electoral process in the CAR.
On December 28, a day after polls opened, several people were killed, including an MSF staff member, when a public transport truck was targeted by gunfire in Grimari, near Bambari.
This new deterioration in the security context further complicates the already extremely limited access of thousands of Central Africans to essential medical care, according to Lampaert.
MSF teams remain mobilised to provide humanitarian and medical aid to people. While some activities had to be reduced or suspended due to the significant increase in security risks for patients and staff, most services provided by MSF in the country continue to be provided.
“Since December 21, more than 110 wounded have already been taken care of by our teams in Bossangoa, Bangui, Bangassou, Bambari and Batangafo,” said Lampaert.
The organisation called on all armed groups to facilitate the work of health-care workers to ensure the provision of timely medical care, to respect their obligations to protect civilians and humanitarian workers, to respect health facilities, ambulances and medical staff, as well as patients and their caretakers.
The CAR descended into chaos in 2013 when mostly Muslim rebels ousted Bozize, sparking reprisals from mostly Christian militias.