(Photo: Reuters/Siegfried Modola)
Three aid workers were among the 22 killed in a brutal attack in the Central African Republic on Saturday, allegedly carried out by Seleka rebels, the same militia faction that overthrew the country's government last year.
The attack happened Saturday when Seleka rebels entered the town of Nanga Boguila, located about 280 miles north of the country's capital of Bangui. Rebel forces reportedly entered the town and proceeded to attack a local medical clinic, where a meeting was being held among 40 community leaders and members of the international humanitarian aid organization Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) to discuss local health care.
The rebels were attempting to rob the medical clinic and some fighters began to fire heavily into the crowd of community leaders and MSF aid workers. According to Reuters, 15 local chiefs and three doctors working with MSF were killed in the attack.
Gilles Xavier Nguembassa, a former member of parliament for the Boguila region, told Reuters that while some victims were killed as the Seleka rebels approached the town, the majority of the victims were murdered during the robbery at the MSF clinic.
The international medical humanitarian organization released a statement, saying it condemns "the unprovoked killing of unarmed civilians at a location clearly identified as a health facility, and calls on all parties to the conflict to respect the neutrality of health care staff, facilities, and activities."
Stefano Argenziano, the head of the MSF operation in the Central African Republic, added in a statement that his organization is "extremely shocked and saddened by the brutal violence used against our medical staff and the community."
"Our first priority is to treat the wounded, notify family members, and to secure the safety of our staff, patients, and the hospital."
"This appalling incident has forced us to withdraw key staff and suspend activities in Boguila," Argenziano continued. "While we remain committed to providing humanitarian assistance to the community, we also have to take into account the safety of our staff. In reaction to this unconscionable act, we are also examining whether it is feasible to continue operations in other areas."
The Central African Republic, especially the capital of Bangui, has seen continuing violence and civil unrest since the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels overthrew the government in 2013. Their leader, Michel Djotodia, only led the country until January 2014, when he was forced to step down in response to intense international pressure.
Since January, the Seleka rebels have continued to battle with local villages and the Christian-led "anti-balaka" group, a militia dedicated to self-defense against the Muslim rebels. According to Reuters, just last week 1,300 Muslims were escorted out of Bangui by peacekeepers for their own protection following heightened religious hostility.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently visited the African country, encouraging Christians and Muslims to stop the fighting and reach a compromise before the country starts to reflect the previous humanitarian atrocities committed in Rwanda.
"Do not repeat the mistakes of the past – heed the lessons. The fate of your country is in your hands. The people of CAR should not be killing the people of the CAR," the secretary general said.