The growing threat of explosive devices
Accidents involving explosive ordnance have taken on increasing proportions since mid-April 2021, particularly in the west of the Central African Republic, a region where conflict has intensified.
An alarming rise
On 22 June, four people were killed by the detonation of an explosive device between Garba and Bakari villages, 115 km from Bouar in the Nana-Mambéré Prefecture. On 20 June, a herder and several of his cattle were killed by the detonation of a device west of Amada-Gaza in the Mambéré-Kadéï Prefecture, and on 12 June, three people were allegedly killed in the border region with Chad in the Ouham Pendé Prefecture.
Fearing for their safety, the inhabitants of Nguia in the southwest of Bouar in Nana-Mambéré, estimated at a thousand people, fled across the border to Cameroun after a device exploded in their village on 28 May. Since the incident, the village has been inaccessible by road due to the suspected threat of other explosive devices. The previous day, on 27 May, five members of a joint team of Central African security forces and bilateral forces were killed and five injured when their vehicles hit a roadside explosive device near Bondiba on the Abba – Baboua axis. And on 26 May, two UN peacekeepers sustained injuries and their armoured vehicle was heavily damaged when it hit an explosive device during a patrol in Kiamoni village near the Cameroonian border in Mambéré-Kadéï.
Between 20 April and 16 May 2021, explosive devices killed at least 11 people, including eight civilians, and injured four in five accidents in Nana-Mambéré alone.
The victims are diverse: a family, merchants, armed elements, UN peacekeepers 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.
Some incidents involving explosive devices were also reported from other parts of the Central African Republic. But the main focus of the recent increase remains on the west, notably Nana-Mambéré, Mambéré-Kadéï and Ouham Pendé on the border with Cameroon.
In July 2020, the suspected use of anti-vehicle mines was first reported in the country since the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSCA was established in 2014. One of the suspected devices damaged a MINUSCA tank near the border with Cameroon. After a relative calm between July 2020 and April 2021, the problem has taken on dangerous dimensions 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 threat of suspected explosive devices. Various axes in Nana-Mambéré, Mambéré-Kadéï and Ouham Pendé have been considered high risk due to the suspected presence of explosive devices and remain practically impassable for humanitarians and civilians alike, including between Bouar and Ngaounday, Abba and Baboua and in the area of Amada-Gaza.
Towns and villages in the areas where explosive devices are suspected risk to be cut off from food and other supplies, trade, security patrols and humanitarian assistance. Explosive ordnance also limits people’s access to fields during this time of planting, places of work and income and essential services such as health care and education.
Emergency assistance by air
Circumventing access restrictions, OCHA and humanitarian partners in mid-June delivered relief supplies by helicopter to Nguia-Bouar. Some 1.5 tons of medicine, nutritional supplements, hygiene products and food reached the 1,000 villagers, including nearly 400 internally displaced people, to satisfy the most urgent needs and replenish the local health center. As if the threat of suspected explosive ordnance was not enough, Nguia has been further isolated by clashes between armed groups and military forces. Similar helicopter missions will likely be organized to the region in the coming weeks and months.
Protecting civilians and humanitarian workers
In May, explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) teams from the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSCA surveyed and cleared the Baboua – Bondiba – Nguia-Bouar axis parallel to the Cameroonian border and other suspected hazardous areas along the Bouar – Bocaranga axis – a slow and dangerous process. The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) has trained nearly 500 United Nations and NGO personnel in Bouar, Paoua and Bangui on the risks of explosive ordnance and appropriate behaviour. UNMAS and MINUSCA are further enhancing their capacities 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 who live in the affected regions. The Protection Cluster is advocating for the resumption of mine risk education for the population; an activity that NGOs undertook between 2014 and 2018 in the Central African Republic.