Opinions & Features June 17, 2021 at 09:00 am

How Russian mercenaries are committing war crimes in the Central African Republic

Nii Ntreh June 17, 2021 at 09:00 am

June 17, 2021 at 09:00 am | Opinions & Features

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with the president of the Central African Republic, Faustin-Archange Touadera, during their meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, on May 23 (Michael Klimentyev/Sputnik/Pool/EPA-EFE)

On the afternoon of February 15 this year, between a dozen and twenty persons were slain in and near a mosque in Bambari, Central African Republic (CAR), reports from news media, including CNN’s, claim.

Several eyewitness accounts from that afternoon in Bambari reveal that several civilians were killed in cold blood when Russian and local troops forced worshippers to leave the mosque late that afternoon. A report compiled by the
UN peacekeeping force in CAR, known as MINUSCA, said that in Bambari, the FACA (the CAR Army) and the Russian mercenaries may have perpetrated war crimes in Bambari, particularly in the execution of civilians and other non-combatants.

There are now reportedly over 2,000 Russian mercenaries in the Central African Republic who have been contracted supposedly to help fight rebels. The number of mercenaries has been growing since 2017.

The Sentry, an independent investigative organization, has received confidential UN records that back up witness and victim charges against Russian mercenaries. The UN Working Group (UNWG) report has accused the Russian mercenaries of employing excessive force and shelling protected facilities such as a mosque and Internally displaced people (IDPs) camps.

The incident in Bambari is one of many currently under investigation, all of which reveal a wide spectrum of human rights violations committed by Russian mercenaries in the Central African Republic. The UN estimates that there are 2,300 Russian mercenaries in the CAR, including a Syrian contingent, stationed at more than 30 locations. Russian armored personnel vehicles, combat helicopters such as the Mi8 and Mi-24, and drones have all been imported into the country.

Since late December, when Russian mercenaries joined a government operation against rebel factions attempting to advance on the capital city of Bangui, reports of human rights violations have increased. The presence of lucrative mining concessions has been linked to the presence of the Russian mercenary. In CAR, there is a rising Russian presence that serves many purposes.

Several mercenary-related businesses are part of Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin’s economic empire. Prighozhin has been described as the single most important outsider with power in the CAR. Sewa Services, Wagner PMC, and Lobaye Invest are among the businesses he reportedly owns.

To exploit those mineral concessions, the companies need territorial control. Expert analysis of the focus of Russian mercenary activity shows it is concentrated in areas rich in minerals. In 2020, the CAR government revoked the license of a Canadian company at Ndassima. The Ministry of Mines then granted a 25-year concession to a firm named Midas Ressources, which was registered as a Russian corporation, according to papers obtained by Sentry.

The Russian government appears to be supporting the presence of Russian mercenaries. In exchange for substantial concessions in the country’s mining industry, especially gold and diamonds, Moscow has increased its political and financial efforts in the former French colony since 2018.

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