Unidentified “armed combatants” killed three Burundian peacekeepers in the Central African Republic (CAR), the United Nations said on Friday, hours after a rebel coalition fighting the government called off a unilateral truce and reiterated its calls for the suspension of general elections. should take place on Sunday.
Attacks on UN peacekeepers and Central African troops took place in Dekoa, in the central prefecture of Kemo, and in Bakouma, in the southern prefecture of Mbomou, the UN said in a brief statement.
“Three Burundian peacekeepers were killed and two others wounded,” the statement said, without providing further details.
The attacks came as CAR voters prepared for the presidential and legislative elections, seen as a key test for the country’s ability to regain stability after decades of political unrest and armed conflict.
President Faustin-Archange Touadera, in search of another term, is the favorite to win the presidential election in a peloton of 17 candidates.
The country’s Constitutional Court ruled on Saturday that presidential elections would go ahead as scheduled Sunday, after several opposition groups as well as a newly formed coalition of armed groups – the Coalition of Patriots for Change (PCC) – called for a postponement of the vote.
The court rejected several candidates for the elections, including former President François Bozize, who was dismissed from his post in 2013 following a rebellion led by Seleka fighters.
Speaking from the capital Bangui, Catherine Soi of Al Jazeera said the atmosphere was charged with tension.
“The court said the petitioners did not have strong enough grounds for the election to be postponed,” she said.
“We have spoken to UN officials who say 70% of the country is safe enough for people to come and vote. We spoke to the government spokesperson who said yes they expected a low turnout but they hope that turnout won’t be slow enough to discredit the process.
The CCP, formed on December 19 and drawn from militias that together control two-thirds of the country, launched an offensive last week and threatened to march on the capital, Bangui.
The government called the move a “coup,” accusing Bozize of stoking the CCP rebellion to disrupt the elections.
The former president, who is subject to UN sanctions, has denied the allegation.
Progress of the rebel alliance was halted thanks to international aid: Russia and Rwanda sent troops to consolidate Touadera’s government, while the UN mission in South Sudan also sent 300 troops. of peace in CAR on Thursday to help the country “secure the elections”.
The CCP announced a brief unilateral truce on Wednesday, but rescinded it on Friday, saying the government had “cavalierly rejected” this “chance for peace.”
Hours later, the UN MINUSCA peacekeeping force said fighting had resumed in Bakouma, about 250 km east of Bangui. Armed men had sought to descend the main roads to Bangui but were arrested, according to MINUSCA, which has more than 12,500 uniformed soldiers in the country.
Three days before the elections in the Central African Republic ??, @UNPOL #MINUSCA intensifies its patrols and secures the collection centers for voter cards to reassure the population #Bangui and regions. pic.twitter.com/8a66GfvbxJ
– Pascal Champion (@UNPOL_RCA) December 24, 2020
Touadera, who campaigned in Bangui alongside Russian, Rwandan and UN guards, urged voters to come and vote fearlessly on Sunday.
“They are trying to come to Bangui. You Central Africans must open your eyes, ”he told his supporters during his last campaign rally. “Help our armed forces, the UN peacekeepers, MINUSCA, those of Rwanda and Russia. They give us a hand. Don’t let these armed fighters enter the city.
Speaking to Al Jazeera on Saturday, the UN resident coordinator in the country, Denise Brown, said the situation in Bangui was “calm”.
“The distribution of voter cards is underway and voters in this country who are registered to vote are coming in large numbers to collect their cards,” she said.
“The people are determined to vote tomorrow. And we are determined at the United Nations – with the support of the international community – to make sure that the vote takes place. “
Several opposition candidates had stopped their campaigns some time ago, demanding a postponement of the elections.
Jean Serge Bokassa, the son of the country’s self-proclaimed emperor, has meanwhile withdrawn from the race, citing security concerns. Opposition candidate and former Prime Minister Anicet-Georges Dologuele – backed by Bozize – is now Touadera’s main challenger.
Catherine Soi of Al Jazeera said that people “have no appetite for any kind of conflict … and want to exercise their right to vote”.
“When you come out of Bangui, in the countryside, people are very afraid. We hear of fighting in various places, of displaced people, ”she added.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday that at least five civilians were killed while the UN said more than 55,000 people had fled their homes for fear of attacks.
HRW, in a statement Wednesday, accused the CCP of wreaking havoc and said the groups that make up the alliance have committed war crimes over the past five years, “including deliberately killing civilians, raping women and girls and by deliberately destroying civilian property ”. .
Meanwhile, Paul Melly, Africa program member at Chatham House, said the CAR government is unlikely to accept the CPC’s demands and delay the vote.
“The United Nations, MINUSCA and the government have made a huge effort to organize themselves to mobilize the electoral process,” he told Al Jazeera from London, the capital of the United Kingdom.
“They registered everyone, they distributed or started to distribute voter cards… a lot of people in Bangui want to go ahead and exercise their right to vote.”