Central African Republic: Woman Shot Dead in MSF Ambulance in Targeted Attack

MSF presence jeopardized by second killing in nine months

Berlin/Bangui, Central African Republic, March 13, 2008 — A woman was shot dead in a Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) ambulance, Monday, March 10, when an unidentified gunman fired on the vehicle in Vakaga Province in the northeast of the Central African Republic (CAR). As a result, MSF has suspended its mobile clinic activities outside the main towns in the region. This is the second person to be killed in an attack on MSF in the past nine months in CAR. The ambulance was carrying a mother and her baby who had been discharged from the MSF health center in Gordil, a provincial town. The 32-year-old woman leaves behind six children.

“We are shocked and outraged that our patient’s mother was shot,” says Nicole Henze, MSF head of mission in CAR. “This attack is unacceptable. Our ambulance was clearly targeted, making us reconsider our activities in remote areas and our presence in the country. All armed persons are obliged to respect humanitarian aid. This includes medical personnel and, above all, our patients.”

The killing follows a series of attacks and threats against humanitarian organizations and health workers during the past months. In June, an MSF aid worker, Elsa Serfass, was killed by rebel gunfire in the northwest of CAR, leading to a lengthy reduction of MSF operations.

Until this attack, throughout northern CAR, MSF was providing basic health care to populations in remote areas, as well as referral and access to secondary care for more serious cases. However, MSF considers that the necessary conditions for its medical teams to provide aid to these isolated populations do not currently exist.

Large parts of the civilian population in northern CAR are subject to roadside banditry, abuse by armed groups, and repeated displacement. Villages have been attacked, pillaged, and burned, forcing people to flee into inhospitable forests, and severely restricting their access to health care.

In north-eastern Vakaga province, MSF provided assistance to a population of approximately 35,000 people through mobile and fixed clinics in Birao and Gordil. MSF teams work in seven other locations in Ouham-Pendé, Ouham, and Nana-Grébizi in the northwest of the country. From its health structures MSF carries out emergency surgery, provides primary and secondary health care, and treats patients for TB, HIV/AIDS, and sleeping sickness. MSF has been working in the Central African Republic since 1997.