Unidentified “armed combatants” have killed three peacekeepers from Burundi 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 the 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, who is under UN sanctions, 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 12,500 uniformed troops in the country.