At least thirty civilians, including six Red Cross volunteers, have died in the Central African Republic as a result of an outbreak of violence between local self-defence groups and members of the militant group, the Union for Peace in Central Africa.
Fighting erupted in the town of Gambo, located 75 kilometres from the town of Bangassou, a town that has been transformed into the focal point for renewed bloodshed in the country. Red Cross members had gathered in Gambo to attend a crisis meeting at a local healthcare facility, where they were attacked. This was the third attack on Red Cross workers so far, this year, a trend that has forced the organization to operate with a greater deal of caution in the area. As such, regional Red Cross workers have largely been blocked from providing health care and other humanitarian aid services. Those clinics and hospitals that have managed to remain operational have found themselves on high alert, with fighters from rival militant factions frequently infiltrating facilities to execute their wounded rivals, events which typically result in the maiming or death of noncombatants who are also present. The President of the Central African Red Cross, Antoine Mbao-Bogo, attempted to address the issue head on, calling on groups in the region to “[…] take steps to spare the civilian population, and to respect all humanitarian workers.”
Furthermore, while the majority of reports claim that the aggressors in this most recent attack were members of the Union for Peace in Central Africa (UPC) a spokesperson for the group, Souleymane Dauoda, when speaking to the Associated Press, soundly denied responsibility for the violence. Instead, Dauoda stated that UPC members in the town were evacuating civilians and defending the town against a large group of “armed bandits.” Meanwhile, although they were absent at the time of fighting, United Nations peacekeeping forces have been moved into Gambo to help re-establish some semblance of stability and plans have been made to deploy more in the near future.
These clashes come at a time of heightened friction between Muslim and Christian groups within the Central African Republic and underscore the growing threat of sectarian violence spreading across the nation. To expand, the current conflict found its beginnings in 2012 when a coalition of Muslim-majority militant groups, collectively known as the Séléka, of which the UPC are members of, accused the central government of failing to abide by a peace agreement signed earlier, in 2007. Raising arms against the central government, the Séléka successfully captured the nation’s capital of Bangui in 2013, an event that led to the formation of anti-Muslim militia groups collectively known as the Anti-balaka. Fighting between these groups shifted progressively away from the capital to the southeast of the country, leading to the current spout of violence centred around Bangassou. Since the renewal of hostilities in 2012, over 700 000 civilians have been forced to flee their homes and thousands more have been killed. Efforts to curtail the growing conflict have consistently been unsuccessful, with a peace deal agreed that was upon in June of this year being disregarded by all signatories.
The lack of diligence applied towards solving the crisis and the mounting violence in the country have worried the international community. For instance, the UN Aid Chief, Stephen O’Brien, has stated that “We must act now, not pare down the UN’s effort, and pray we don’t live to regret it,” and is calling for an increase in the number of foreign troops in the country to strengthen the peacekeeping mission and prevent the onset of genocide.
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