Three UN peacekeepers have been killed by unidentified fighters in the Central African Republic, the UN said, as the country prepares for a general election and fighting continues between rebels and government forces.
The news came after a rebel coalition suspended a ceasefire and said it would resume its march on the capital and after the arrival of troops from Russia and Rwanda to support the government in the resource-rich country.
“Three Burundi peacekeepers were killed and two others wounded” after attacks on UN troops and Central African national defense and security forces, the UN said in a statement on Friday.
The attacks took place in Dekoa, central Kemo Prefecture, and in Bakouma, in southern Mbomou Prefecture, it said, without giving further details.
Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, strongly condemned the recent incident and called on the CAR authorities to investigate the “heinous” abuses.
He also warned that “attacks on UN peacekeepers could be a war crime.”
Before the vote, 63-year-old incumbent President Faustin Archange Touadera has accused his predecessor, Francois Bozize, of plotting a coup.
Bozize – who is under UN sanctions and is not allowed to drive – denies the allegations.
On Tuesday, a militia briefly seized the country’s fourth largest city before resuming security forces with the support of UN peacekeepers.
Rebel groups launched an offensive a week ago and threatened to march on the capital Bangui, in what the government described as an attempted coup, but their progress was halted with international aid.
However, a three-day ceasefire that was mediated before the election fell on Friday with the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) announcing that it would resume pressure on the capital.
The CPC – whose components come from militia groups that together control two-thirds of the country – was created on December 19 by armed groups that accused Touadera of trying to fix the vote.
Summaries resumed on Friday in Bakouma, about 800 kilometers northeast of Bangui, according to Vladimir Monteiro, a spokesman for the UN MINUSCA peacekeeping force.
MINUSA said on Thursday that a 300-man contingent of Rwanda’s reinforcements had arrived in the country.
Russia, which recently signed a military cooperation agreement with the Touadera government, has also sent at least 300 military instructors to strengthen CAR’s forces before the vote.
Sunday’s election is considered a key test of CAR’s ability to regain stability.
But a crucial question is whether turnout will be hit hard by violence or intimidation, making the next 140-seat next president and legislature unreliable.
CAR has been mineral-rich but ranked as the world’s second poorest country on the Human Development Index and has been chronically unstable since independence 60 years ago.