Further Clarification on the Death of our Colleague Elsa Serfass in the Central African Republic

Update: "An absurd death follows a tragic death"

June 19, 2007 — The Popular Army for the Restoration of Democracy (APRD), a rebel group in the Central African Republic (CAR), claimed in an interview on Radio France International on Monday, June 18, that it had executed an APRD member who fired the shot that killed MSF staff member Elsa Serfass in northwestern CAR on June 11. In agreement with Elsa's family, MSF had requested that the APRD show mercy towards the perpetrator.

"An absurd death follows a tragic death," said Jean-Hervé Bradol, the president of the French section of MSF.

Paris, June 13, 2007 – On Monday June 11, 2007, Elsa Serfass was struck by a bullet while travelling in the Ngaoundai region of northwest Central African Republic (CAR). She died at 12.30pm local time.

Elsa was travelling with two other Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) staff to Ngaoundai for the purpose of evaluating the health needs in the area. The rebel group the Popular Army for the Restoration of Democracy (APRD) is known to be active in this region. MSF duly informed in advance leaders of this group, as well as the other parties to the conflict, of the team's movements. Elsa and her colleagues were travelling in a vehicle clearly identified with the MSF logo.

They had driven past several villages on the road, two of which were burnt to the ground, and were just south of the village of Bong when two shots were fired at the car. One of these hit the back left side of the vehicle where Elsa was sitting, and she was fatally wounded. The two other passengers were not injured. The driver stopped immediately, and he and the nurse climbed out of the car, stating clearly: "Don't shoot. We are doctors with Médecins Sans Frontières." Shortly after, around 20 armed men came out of the bush bordering the road and presented themselves as members of the APRD. The team told them that a person on board was injured. After verification, the armed men stated that the shooting was a mistake, then disbanded and let our team go.

Although the MSF nurse immediately administered first aid, she was unable to help Elsa, who died twenty minutes later.

MSF condemns this murder and notes that the APRD acknowledges its liability for this tragic event.

In this region of CAR, aid is delivered in a climate of insecurity fuelled by rebels and government forces alike: violence and reprisals against civilians, kidnappings, threats, and intimidations against relief workers. Presently, all MSF mobile activities are suspended in the northwest, and the team of international staff based in Paoua has gone to Bangui, the capital. The future of our activities in the area will depend on the result of our discussions with all the parties involved and on the evaluation of our space for work.

MSF does not wish to make any further comments. Thank you for your understanding.