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Doctors Without Borders Suspends Work In Parts Of Central African Republic

Doctors Without Borders says it is suspending its work in areas the Central African Republic after gunmen ambushed a convoy and killed one of the aid group's drivers.

The attack near the border with Chad is one of many recent attacks on the group's staff members, highlighting the risks they are exposed to while treating patients in many of the world's most dangerous conflict zones.

The ambush happened Wednesday, when armed men stopped a two-car convoy carrying doctors and patients. "The team was forced out of the cars and onto the ground," the group said in a statement. "They were robbed of personal belongings and medication. In the course of the incident, which lasted for more than 40 minutes, one of the drivers was shot and killed."

Michelle Chouinard, the group's head of mission in the CAR, said the staff and patients "endured prolonged harassment, including bullets shot close to their heads and repeated verbal threats that they would be killed."

She adds: "It is absolutely unacceptable that a team of medical workers and their patients were attacked while returning from providing lifesaving medical care."

Doctors Without Borders, also known as Médecins Sans Frontières or MSF, says it will suspend operations in the area "until such time as it receives adequate guarantees for the safety for its staff and the acceptance of its medical and humanitarian activities."

The Central African Republic slid into chaos in 2013 when "mainly Muslim Seleka fighters toppled former president Francois Bozize. Christian militias responded to Seleka abuses by attacking the Muslim minority," Reuters reports. It adds that 1 in 5 people have fled their homes because of the violence.

Doctors Without Borders has faced repeated attacks against its staff and hospitals in the CAR.

NPR's Gregory Warner reports that attacks against the group have sharply increased around the world. He adds: "That's one reason the group is boycotting next week's World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, calling it a 'fig-leaf of good intentions' that fails to demand safety for unarmed aid workers or hold world leaders accountable for conflict."

Michiel Hofman, a senior security adviser for Doctors Without Borders, tells NPR's Jackie Northam that the group has regularly comes under "small-scale attack, such as looting and burning" over the years. But as Jackie reports, "over the last few years there's been a dramatic increase of aerial attacks on its clinics or hospitals it supports. Those have been in Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan, on civilian medical facilities that should be untouchable under international humanitarian law."

U.S. airstrikes killed 42 people when they hit a Doctors Without Borders trauma center in Kunduz, Afghanistan, in 2015, an incident that the Pentagon says was caused "by human errors, compounded by process and equipment failures."

In April, a missile hit a hospital in embattled Aleppo, Syria. The attack killed at least 27 people. And as NPR's Jason Beaubien reports, over the past seven months, "four MSF facilities in Yemen were hit by airstrikes."

The group says that last year, 75 hospitals it manages or supports were bombed.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.