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Three Burundi peacekeepers killed in CAR as rebels call off truce | Elections News

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Unidentified “armed combatants” have 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 calls for the suspension of a general election scheduled to take place on Sunday.

The attacks on UN peacekeepers and CAR troops took place in Dekoa, central Kemo prefecture, and in Bakouma, southern Mbomou prefecture, the UN said in a brief statement.

“Three peacekeepers from Burundi were killed and two others were wounded,” the statement said, without providing further details.

The attacks came as voters in CAR geared up for presidential and legislative elections, deemed a key test for the country’s ability to recover stability after decades of political turmoil and armed conflict.

President Faustin-Archange Touadera, seeking another mandate, is the favourite to win the presidential election in a field of 17 candidates.

But several opposition groups as well as a recently formed coalition of armed groups – the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) – have called for a vote delay after CAR’s top court rejected several candidacies for the election.

Those barred from contesting include former President Francois Bozize, who was removed in 2013 following a rebellion led by mainly Muslim Seleka fighters.

The CPC, formed on December 19 and drawing from militia groups 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 CPC rebellion to disrupt the election.

The former president denied the claim.

The rebel alliance’s progress was halted with international help: Russia and Rwanda sent troops to shore up Touadera’s government, while UN mission in South Sudan also sent 300 peacekeepers to CAR on Thursday to help the country “secure the elections”.

The CPC announced a brief unilateral truce on Wednesday, but called it off on Friday, saying the government had “cavalierly rejected” this “chance for peace”.

Hours later, the UN’s MINUSCA peacekeeping force said fighting resumed in Bakouma, about 250km (155 miles) east of Bangui. Gunmen had sought to advance down the main highways towards Bangui but were stopped, according to MINUSCA, which has more than 12,000 uniformed troops in the country.

Touadera, who has been campaigning in Bangui flanked by Russian, Rwandan and UN guards, has urged voters to come out and vote without fear on Sunday

“They are trying to come to Bangui. You Central Africans must open your eyes,” he told supporters at his final campaign rally. “Help our armed forces, UN peacekeepers MINUSCA, those from Rwanda and Russia. They are giving us a hand. Don’t let those armed fighters come into the city.”

Central African Republic President Faustin Archange Touadera addresses supporters at a political rally at the stadium in Bangui, Central African Republic, December 19, 2020 [Antonie Rolland/ Reuters]

Several opposition candidates had stopped their campaign some time ago, demanding an election delay. Jean Serge Bokassa, the son of the country’s self-declared emperor, meanwhile withdrew from the race, citing security concerns. Opposition candidate Anicet Dologuele – backed by Bozize – is now Touadera’s strongest challenger.

Al Jazeera’s Catherine Soi, reporting from Bangui, said people “do not have an appetite for any kind of conflict … and want to exercise their right to vote”.

“When you go outside Bangui, to the countryside, people are very afraid. We are hearing of fighting in various places, people being displaced,” she added.

According to the UN, the growing insecurity and fears of attacks have panicked the population, with 55,000 people fleeing their homes.

Paul Melly, a fellow at the Africa Programme at Chatham House, said it will be “very difficult” to expect the government to halt the Sunday elections.

“The United Nations, MINUSCA and the government have put a huge effort into organising in mobilising the electoral process,” he told Al Jazeera from London.

“They got everybody registered, they have been distributing or starting to distribute voter cards … a lot of people in Bangui want to go ahead and exercise their right to vote.”



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Pirates kill 1, kidnap 15 crew on Turkish ship off West Africa | Asia News

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Vessel was sailing from Lagos to Cape Town when it was attacked northwest of Sao Tome and Principe.

Pirates attacked a Turkish cargo ship off the West African coast, kidnapping 15 sailors and killing one, and Turkey’s military was planning a rescue operation on Sunday.

Turkey’s Maritime Directorate said the crew initially locked themselves in a safe area but the pirates forced entry after six hours. During the struggle, one crew member on board the M/V Mozart died.

Turkish media identified the victim as engineer Farman Ismayilov of Azerbaijan, the only non-Turkish crew member.

After taking most of the crew on Saturday, the pirates left the ship in the Gulf of Guinea with three sailors on board, state-run Anadolu news agency said. The vessel is currently heading to Gabon’s Port-Gentil.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke twice to the senior officer remaining on the ship, Furkan Yaren, the Turkish presidency said in a tweet. It added Erdogan issued orders for the recovery of the kidnapped crew.

Yaren was cited as saying the pirates beat crew members, and left him with an injured leg while another still aboard the ship had shrapnel wounds.

“The owners and operators of the M/V Mozart, which was hijacked at gunpoint in the Gulf of Guinea, have regretfully confirmed that one of its crew has been killed and others abducted,” Istanbul-based Boden Maritime said in a statement.

Most dangerous sea

The Liberian-flagged Mozart was sailing from Lagos, Nigeria, to Cape Town in South Africa when it was attacked 100 nautical miles (185km) northwest of the island nation of Sao Tome and Principe on Saturday morning.

Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu spoke to his Azerbaijani counterpart to offer condolences and said the body of the crew member would be transferred when the Mozart reaches port.

According to reports, the pirates disabled most of the ship’s systems, leaving only the navigation system for the remaining crew to find their way to port.

The Gulf of Guinea – off the coasts of Nigeria, Guinea, Togo, Benin and Cameroon – is the most dangerous sea in the world because of piracy, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

In July 2019, 10 Turkish seamen were kidnapped off the coast of Nigeria. They were released less than a month later.



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