In the advancement supported by Russia, the growing threat of mines and improvised explosives in the Central African Republic (CAR) shows that a new, ongoing guerrilla warfare is undergoing a dangerous tactical shift.
Earlier this month, a convoy drove through the volatile northwestern part of the Central African Republic and hit an explosive device, killing an aid worker from the Danish Refugee Council.
Even in one of the most dangerous countries in the world for aid workers, they often face violence and intimidation. This tragic incident is also notable-highlighting the unprecedented threat that has become increasingly serious after years of civil war.
These indiscriminate devices can kill or cause terrible harm, keep aid and human rights investigators away from hot spots — and deprive desperate communities of their lives.
“The battle is going on behind closed doors,” said Christine Caldera from the advocacy group of the Center for Global Responsibility to Protect, adding that civilians are paying the price for the increasing use of explosive devices.
Although instability has destroyed the Central African Republic for decades, the origins of this new chapter of the crisis can be traced back to 2013, when a rebel coalition seized power and triggered loyalty in the vicious circle of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The revenge of the militia who was overthrown.
As the warring parties split, Russia joined the fight in 2017 as part of an effort to expand its influence across the African continent-supporting the troubled government of the capital Bangui and providing it with weapons, ammunition and 175 military personnel Instructor.
There is evidence that these so-called instructors include Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group, a private military company with combat experience in Ukraine, Syria, and Libya-although both governments deny this.
The rebel groups in the Central African Republic—including Return, Reclamation, and Rehabilitation (3R)—mainly come from the Muslim minority that has long been marginalized in the country.
Before the presidential election in December last year, 3R joined a loose rebel coalition, which led to the breakdown of the peace agreement signed in 2019.
With the help of Russia, the armed forces have since repelled them and retaken towns and villages that have been out of state control for many years.
But according to a recent UN reportIn the past year, they have committed almost as many abuses as insurgents, ranging from kidnapping and arbitrary detention to rape, torture and summary execution.
Black market mines
Complicating this violence are the new threats of landmines and improvised explosive devices, which are becoming more common in the region, especially in northern Nigeria, the Lake Chad Basin and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In June 2020, the Central African Republic used these weapons for the first time in a UN-supported offensive against 3R, and the organization began to use these weapons in a brutal attempt to occupy territory.
Among the installations being laid is an anti-tank mine called PRB-M3, a powerful explosive made in Belgium in the 1970s and 1980s.
Weapons experts say these mines may have been smuggled from Libyan stocks or mined from active minefields in Chad and Sudan before entering the black market.
David Lockhead, a senior researcher in the small arms investigation, said that the rebels in the Central African Republic seem to be imitating Mali’s jihadist groups. They put this type of landmines together with other homemade explosives into improvised explosive devices to create larger ones. The explosion destroyed the armored vehicle.
“This is a very worrying trend,” he said. “It may cost 35 dollars (26 pounds) to build an improvised explosive device, and you can defeat an armored vehicle worth half a million dollars.”
After the United Nations forces ended their brief attacks on the 3R strongholds, mine-related incidents almost ceased until this year the government began its efforts to defeat the insurgents from the provincial capital.
According to the United Nations humanitarian agency Ocha, between January and August, explosives caused a total of at least 14 civilian deaths, including a pregnant woman and two children. Another 21 people and two peacekeepers killed more than two dozen civilians. Injured in the incident.
“Getting here is very complicated-you have changing lines of conflict, weak infrastructure, and it’s the rainy season. But the explosive decree is a new game,” said Rosaria Bruno of Orchha.
The impact on civilians is disastrous. Landmines and improvised explosive devices buried on roads and even near schools keep villagers away from peacekeeping patrols and humanitarian assistance, and force people to leave their homes. More than 1.4 million people are currently displaced across the country-the highest level in five years.
For example, after a device in the Nana-Mambéré area exploded in May, approximately 1,000 people fled their village; the village remains inaccessible due to the continuing lethal threat.
Some aid materials have been transported by helicopter, including 1.5 tons of medicines, sanitary supplies and villagers’ food.But in the humanitarian emergency faced by the response plan, such operations are costly and unsustainable Nearly US$190 million in funding gap -More than 40% of the required amount.
The United Nations peacekeeping force (Minusca) of 15,000 people has also felt the impact, which has been hit by numerous allegations of sexual abuse.
Troops in trouble have also become targets of discredit from all sides, but their mission has been blocked by the presence of explosives and Russian personnel deployed in the field.
Last month, it faced rumors of providing landmines to the rebels, even though it was deploying personnel to dismantle the equipment.
“Minusca has never used mines,” said UN Force spokesperson Maj Ibrahim Atikou Amadou, adding that due to these allegations, mine operations are still at a deadlock.
Although the responsibility for planting landmines does not seem to lie solely with the insurgents.
United Nations June Report It was revealed that government forces have warned local communities in two different regions of the country that Russian soldiers have placed landmines on roads and near bridges.
Other sources said that this is not the case, but the spread of such rumors is to prevent the insurgents from launching attacks.
The United Nations report stated that the fear caused is real regardless of whether the bomb is real or not, restricting agriculture and preventing children from going to school.
Both the Central African Republic and Russia deny that their forces violated human rights or used landmines or other explosive devices.
Although 3R is widely accused of planting landmines, the organization denies this and blames the Russians.
More than 20 years ago, a global treaty banned the use of landmines against individuals, although Russia is not a signatory and landmines designed to destroy vehicles are not covered by the convention.
‘There is no military solution’
Experts warned that despite their amazing progress, the government forces did not eliminate the rebels, but pushed them to outlying areas and forced them to adopt guerrilla tactics.
They also failed to address the potential dissatisfaction that initially fueled their emergence-the country’s chronic and violent discrimination against the Muslim population.
“It is clear that there is no military solution to this conflict,” Ms. Caldera said.
“Although the security forces are making progress in retaking the territory, they are causing serious damage to civilians without restoring stability.”
This week, the President of the Central African Republic, Faustin-Archange Touadéra, dismissed criticism of his alliance with Russia and insisted that he was willing to talk to the rebels. Say: “I didn’t choose this war.”
As the country plunges into deeper disasters, civilians who bear the brunt of the conflict will want him to take another path.
Jack Roche is a journalist, photographer and filmmaker, focusing on conflict, protection, humanitarian issues and the crisis in the Central African Republic
More about conflicts in CAR: