The growing threat of explosive devices
Incidents involving explosive ordnance have taken on increasing proportions since mid-April 2021, particularly in the west of the Central African Republic (CAR) – a region where conflict has intensified.
An alarming accumulation
At least 11 people were killed by explosive devices, including eight civilians, and four injured in five accidents in the country’s western Nana-Mambéré Prefecture between 20 April and 16 May 2021. On 16 May, three young men were immediately killed when their motorcycle drove over an explosive device 10 km from Yelewa in Nana-Mambéré. The force of the explosion rendered their mortal remains unrecognizable. A MINUSCA armored vehicule also stepped on an explosive device on 26 May in Dilapoko in the west. Two peacekeepers sustained minor injuries, but the vehicle is heavily damaged.
The most recent victims are diverse – a family, merchants, armed elements and a priest. Explosive devices that detonate by the presence, proximity or contact of a person cannot distinguish between civilians and combatants, raising important concerns about the principles of distinction and proportionality under international humanitarian law.
Reports from the centre of the country of incidents involving explosive devices are even more recent. On 18 May, a 16-year-old girl and a man were injured by explosive ordnance on the road between Bambari and Ippy in Ouaka Prefecture. The victims were referred to a hospital in Bambari.
In July 2020, the suspected use of anti-vehicle mines was first reported in the country since MINUSCA was established in 2014. One of the suspected devices damaged a MINUSCA tank near the border with Cameroon. After a relative calm since, the problem has taken on dangerous dimensions since April with serious consequences for civilians.
Restricting humanitarian access and socioeconomic activities
The suspected presence of explosive devices severely limits humanitarian access to vulnerable people in a context already marked by access restrictions due to armed conflict and physical constraints. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that more than 50,000 people in Nana-Mambéré are in dire need of water, sanitation and shelter assistance, more than 1,500 malnourished children are waiting to receive food supplements and 5,800 others need vaccination but cannot be reached due to the hazard that suspected explosive devices pose. Along with other axes in Nana-Mambéré, the roads Baboua-Abba, Gallo-Abba, Bouar-Niem-Yelewa and Bouar-Bocaranga are considered high risk areas due to the suspected presence of explosive devices and remain practically impassable for humanitarians and civilians alike.
The towns and villages in the areas where explosive devices are suspected risk to be cut off from food and non-food supplies, trade, social services and humanitarian assistance, if the potential explosive hazards remain. Explosive ordnance also limits people’s access to fields during this time of planting, places of work and income and services such as health care and education.
Protecting civilians and humanitarian workers
In late May two MINUSCA explosive ordnance disposal teams were surveying and clearing the Baboua-Bondiba-Nguia-Bouar axis parallel to the Cameroonian border – a slow and dangerous process. The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) has trained more than 400 UN and NGO personnel in two humanitarian hubs (Bouar and Bangui) on the risks of explosive ordnance. UNMAS and MINUSCA are enhancing their capacity over the coming months to better respond to the threat. Additional funds are now urgently needed to resume risk education for women, men and children in the affected regions of the country. The Protection Cluster is advocating for the resumption of mine risk education for the population; an activity that NGOs such as DanChurchAid (DCA) and the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD) undertook between 2014 and 2018 in CAR.