The United Nations mission in the Central African Republic (CAR) has said the country’s presidential guard opened fire on unarmed Egyptian peacekeepers and wounded 10 of them – an allegation rejected by the government.
The “deliberate and unspeakable attack” took place on Monday, the MINUSCA mission said in a statement on Tuesday, adding that the Egyptian police contingent was travelling in a bus marked “UN”.
MINUSCA said the Egyptian peacekeepers had just arrived at the airport of the capital, Bangui, when they “suffered heavy fire from the presidential guards without any prior warning or response, even though they were unarmed”.
The peacekeepers caught up in the shooting were in one of a four-bus convoy that took the wrong road on its way towards the UN base and ended in an area close to the presidential residency, Vladimir Monteiro, a spokesperson for the UN mission, told Al Jazeera. As the presidential guards opened fire and the driver tried to escape, Monteiro explained, the bus struck and killed a woman.
“There are no words to explain what happened,” said Monteiro. “That is why the UN mission’s leadership yesterday contacted the government to find out how to proceed and put everything on the table and bring light to these unfortunate events,” he added.
But Albert Yaloke Mokpeme, spokesperson of President Faustin-Archange Touadera’s spokesperson, said MINUSCA’s account was inaccurate.
“They (MINUSCA) have said something that has nothing to do with reality,” he told the Reuters news agency, without giving further details but saying that the defence ministry would issue a statement later on Tuesday.
The alleged shooting is the latest in a series of incidents to strain the relationship between the government and MINUSCA, which has accused security forces of repeatedly violating the two sides’ status of forces agreement.
MINUSCA first deployed to the CAR in 2013 following a rebellion that plunged the gold- and diamond-producing country into turmoil. The mission, whose mandate runs out on November 15, has nearly 12,000 troops in the country and is one of the UN’s costliest operations with an annual budget in excess of $1bn.
Its relations with the government have soured over a UN arms embargo and the government’s use of Russian security contractors.
In an October 12 report to the UN Security Council, the head of MINUSCA, Mankeur Ndiaye, said the mission had recorded 41 violations of the status of forces agreement between June 1 and October 1.
He cited the obstruction of peacekeeping patrols, the detention of staff members and searches of the residences of UN personnel.
Three weeks ago, UN chief Antonio Guterres denounced “hostile incidents” targeting peacekeepers that he said had reached an “unacceptable level”.
“Such actions prevent the fulfilment of the mandate, endanger the lives of the peacekeepers and are in contradiction with the commitments of President Touadera and the government” to stop them, Guterres said in a report, calling for “concrete measures” to put an end to them.