Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged authorities in Equatorial Guinea on Wednesday to invite international experts to conduct an independent investigation into explosions that killed more than 105 people and injured 615.
Based on the number of bodies pulled from the rubble, the actual number of victims is much higher than what the government revealed, said the rights group.
HRW said unverified reports allege that the fire on Sunday was started by soldiers ordered to burn brush and that it then spread to the armory, or that it was started during training on the use of explosives gone awry.
“The government’s response to the explosion has laid bare its callous disregard for the well-being of Equatorial Guineans,” said Sarah Saadoun, senior business and human rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“Regardless of what caused the blast, Equatorial Guineans deserve to know why the military is storing explosives in the middle of a populated area, whether there are any other stored substances that pose an imminent public danger, and what the government is doing to prevent another similar explosion in the future,” she said.
“The people of Bata are grieving,” said Tutu Alicante, director of EG Justice, a group that promotes human rights and good governance in Equatorial Guinea.
“They deserve credible answers as to what happened and immediate support to treat the wounded, shelter the homeless, and rebuild the city. The only way to deliver that is through an independent investigation and international aid that goes directly to affected people,” Alicante said in a statement.
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo said he instructed authorities to investigate the incident to fix responsibilities and gauge the damages caused. He urged residents to remain calm.
He said the accident was because of “negligence and mishandling of dynamite” at the military barracks in the Mondong Nkuantoma neighborhood that damaged almost all the houses and buildings in Bata.
Foreign Minister Simeon Oyono Esono Angue pleaded for international support and described the situation as catastrophic.
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