The United Nations on Thursday reported its first peacekeeper death in the Central African Republic since it took over the duties of trying to calm months of unprecedented violence between Christians and Muslims.
The peacekeeper died in a crash after a U.N. convoy was attacked in the capital, Bangui, said Vannina Maestracci, a spokeswoman for the U.N. secretary-general. The head of the U.N. mission, Lt. Gen. Babacar Gaye, said in a statement that another peacekeeper was severely wounded and seven slightly injured.
Gaye strongly condemned the Thursday evening ambush. There was no information yet on the attackers, and the nationalities of the peacekeepers were being withheld until families could be notified.
A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that Ban was appalled by the attack. “Such acts against those who are working towards peace and security in the Central African Republic are entirely unacceptable,” the statement said.
The news came shortly after commanders of the various U.N. peacekeeping missions gathered at United Nations headquarters for a Security Council meeting on how to deal with increasing violence and other challenges.
“As we are meeting here now, we may listen to bad news again, god forbid,” said Major General Jean Bosco Kazura, the commander of the U.N. mission in Mali, which has lost 10 peacekeepers in the past week alone.
Central African Republic has been devastated by months of unprecedented violence between Christians and Muslims that has sent thousands of Muslims fleeing the country. At least 5,000 people have died.
This week, Bangui is seeing its most significant violence since the U.N. force took over peacekeeping duties from an African Union force. Clashes have resulted in “many casualties,” the International Committee for the Red Cross said Thursday.
An Amnesty International statement earlier Thursday warned that the peacekeeping force was facing its “biggest test” yet amid this week’s violence.
Both diplomats and mission commanders at the Security Council meeting expressed concern about the rising threat to the record number of 130,000 peacekeepers around the world — and, in turn, the people they are there to help.
The U.N. says 102 peacekeepers died in 2013, 36 from direct attacks and others from accidents and illnesses. In 2012, 112 peacekeepers were killed.
“If missions are unable to protect themselves, they will be unable to protect others,” British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said. He pointed out that peacekeepers are increasingly challenged by non-state entities like terrorist groups.
Lt. Gen. Iqbal Singh Singha, the commander of the U.N. mission on the Golan Heights, where 45 Fijian peacekeepers were held for two weeks this year by al-Qaida-linked fighters, said the fighters warned that they would do it again if they had the chance.