AMSTERDAM/NEW YORK, April 28, 2014 – Sixteen civilians, including three national staff members of the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), were killed during an armed robbery on MSF hospital grounds in the northern town of Boguila in the Central African Republic (CAR) on Saturday, April 26.
The incident occurred when armed ex-Seleka members surrounded Boguila’s hospital grounds, where a meeting was taking place with forty community leaders invited by MSF to discuss medical access and care. MSF strongly 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.
“We are extremely shocked and saddened by the brutal violence used against our medical staff and the community,” said Stefano Argenziano, MSF head of mission in CAR. “Our first priority is to treat the wounded, notify family members, and to secure the safety of our staff, patients, and the hospital.”
While some of the gunmen robbed the MSF office at gunpoint and fired shots in the air, other armed men approached the meeting place where MSF staff and community members had gathered together on benches. Unprovoked, the men fired heavily into the crowd, killing and critically wounding meeting participants.
“This appalling incident has forced us to withdraw key staff and suspend activities in Boguila,” said Argenziano. “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.”
MSF is the only international humanitarian organization working in the Boguila area to assist a population increasingly exposed to deadly and indiscriminate attacks by armed groups operating in the area. Saturday’s deadly events constitute an unacceptable attack not just on civilians but also on the ability to provide medical and humanitarian assistance.
Since a coup d’état in March 2013 in CAR, Boguila has experienced increasing tensions and violence, which provoked a massive population displacement in the area in August 2013. In December 2013, Muslims fleeing violence from the nearby village of Nana Bakassa sought refuge with host families in Boguila before moving further north. More recently, on April 11, nearly 7,000 people fled into the bush, and up to 40 people sought shelter on MSF grounds, after an armed group attacked a convoy—accompanied by African Union peacekeeping forces (MISCA)—transiting through Boguila.
Since 2006, MSF has managed the 115-bed hospital in Boguila, dispensing primary and secondary health care for an estimated population of 45,000 people in the region. The MSF teams also support seven health posts around Boguila, providing primary health care, mainly treating malaria and referring severe cases to the hospital. Each month, between 9,000 and 13,000 general consultations are carried out, and between 5,000 to 10,000 people are treated for malaria.
MSF has been working in CAR since 1997. Currently, MSF has more than 300 international staff and more than 2,000 Central African staff working in the country. MSF is running seven regular projects (in Batangafo, Carnot, Kabo, Ndélé, Paoua, Bria, and Zémio) and eight emergency projects (in Bangui, Berbérati, Bouar, Boguila, Bossangoa, Bangassou, and Bocaranga as well as mobile clinics in the northwest of the country). MSF teams are also providing assistance to Central African refugees who have fled to Chad, Cameroon, and Democratic Republic of Congo.