Cambodia is to send a team from the Defense Ministry to investigate an attack that killed four Cambodians attached to a U.N. peacekeeping force in Central African Republic (CAR), Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Wednesday.
The bodies of the four peacekeepers who died in the ambush on Monday will arrive back in the country within two weeks, Defense Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat was quoted as saying by the government-aligned Fresh News website.
“The bodies were taken from the killing scene to the United Nations’ Forces Base to be respected before sending to Cambodia,” Mr. Socheat said.
Mr. Hun Sen said he did not blame the U.N. for the peacekeepers’ deaths, and pledged to continue to commit Cambodian troops to dangerous regions of the globe.
“I take this opportunity to clarify to the United Nations that Cambodia will step up its efforts to continue sending forces to the countries of friends,” he told an audience commemorating the 10th Cambodian Veterans Day on Koh Pich island in Phnom Penh yesterday morning.
“We do not surrender to terrorist acts and we will not surrender to any abuses,” he said.
One Cambodian peacekeeper was killed during the firefight. Three others went missing during the attack and were reported dead yesterday in what the U.N. said was likely an assault carried out by a Christian militia.
“We officially confirmed that our soldiers were killed and their bodies were found already,” Mr. Hun Sen said. “The bodies were found about 2 km from the first fighting area, so our brothers would have been caught and later killed.”
The three soldiers confirmed dead yesterday were warrant officer Seang Norint, assistant warrant officer Mom Tola and medical staffer Mao Eng, Mr. Hun Sen said.
Another Cambodian peacekeeper, driver Thuch Thim, sustained injuries to his left arm, he said.
The deaths came after a fourth peacekeeper, Im Sam, was confirmed dead on Tuesday, according to a statement released by the National Center for Peacekeeping Forces, Mines and ERW Clearance (NPMEC).
The Cambodian contingent was an engineering force, not a fighting force, Mr. Hun Sen said.
“If they were a fighting force, such an incident would not occur like that because those forces are engineering forces for clearing mines and also for building roads to the airport,” he said.
The prime minister said the Defense Ministry would send the investigators to review the circumstances of the Cambodian peacekeepers’ deaths.
The attackers on Monday were trying to free comrades who had been detained by Moroccan forces working with Cambodian troops, NPMEC said.
A statement attributed yesterday to the spokesman of U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the attack, which the U.N. suspected was carried out by the Christian “anti-Balaka” armed group on the Rafai-Bangassou axis in the country’s southeast.
“The Secretary-General strongly condemns the attack perpetrated by suspected anti-Balaka against a convoy of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA),” it said.
Ten other peacekeepers had been evacuated to the capital Bangui and one was still missing, it added.
“The Secretary-General would like to underline that attacks against United Nations peacekeepers may constitute a war crime. He calls on the Central African Republic authorities to investigate the attack in order to swiftly bring those responsible to justice,” it said.
According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, CAR is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for aid agencies, with at least 33 attacks on aid workers in the first quarter of this year.
The U.N. said over the weekend that four international aid groups would temporarily remove their workers from areas in the north of the country due to a rise in attacks against them.
Violence broke out in the small African nation in March 2013, when Muslim “Seleka” rebels overthrew the Christian president.
The U.N. began a peacekeeping mission in 2014 and now has more than 12,000 troops in the country to safeguard civilians from eruptions of violence between the Christian and Muslim factions.
The four deaths almost double the number of Cambodian peacekeepers’ deaths in recent years.
In January, a military officer became the fifth Cambodian peacekeeper to die on a U.N. mission after he succumbed to complications from malaria in CAR. The four other deaths occurred in Mali—two from food poisoning, one in a violent sandstorm and a fourth from malaria.
Since 2006, Cambodia has sent more than 4,180 personnel on U.N. peacekeeping missions to Sudan, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Chad, Syria, Lebanon, Mali and Cyprus.
(Additional reporting by George Wright)