Russian “trainers” sent to the Central African Republic committed “violations of international humanitarian law” with the participation of Central African forces, according to an annual report prepared by United Nations experts, contradicting Moscow’s claims that they are not armed and not taking part in the fighting.
The report, which was recently submitted to the Security Council and obtained by AFP on Monday and prepared by experts in charge of monitoring the arms embargo in Bangui, imposed since 2013, confirms the doubts that emerged a year ago about the significant role played in the country by Russian “trainers”, often referred to as mercenaries. Wagner, a private group close to President Vladimir Putin.
In recent months, several incidents between the peacekeeping force (MINUSCA) and these mercenaries (UN officials have been targeted, burglaries, vehicle searches and the destruction of a UN drone) have exacerbated tensions within the Security Council with Russia, according to diplomats.
“We told the Russians + You are a permanent member of this council and the people who work for your Ministry of Defense are not only taking advantage of this country, but also endangering the peacekeepers that this council has sent to the Central African Republic,” said a Western ambassador, who preferred not to be identified.
He pointed out that MINUSCA “is very concerned about the possibility of an accident in the near term involving Russian mercenaries with the peacekeeping force, resulting in injuries and deaths.”
These “trainers” are deployed in the Central African Republic under a bilateral agreement with Russia, and they are former Russian soldiers supported by Syrian and Libyan mercenaries, according to the report of United Nations experts.
On April 18, Moscow acknowledged the deployment of “532 coaches” in the Central African Republic, stressing that this number “never exceeded 550”, but experts “pointed out that several sources estimated that this number was much higher, ranging between 800 and 2100.”
These estimates do not include the 600 additional Russian trainers Bangui announced to the United Nations in May, which raised questions among Westerners.
– ‘Wagner State’ –
Another ambassador told AFP, preferring to remain anonymous, that the Central African Republic “has become a Wagner country”.
Russian trainers also took control of customs in the Central African Republic, according to several diplomats.
One of those diplomats said that the trainers stationed in mining areas in the Central African Republic “are charged $60 an hour from UN vehicles to use the road infrastructure. They get paid from mining licenses or from extracting the country’s minerals and using their control over the customs system.”
And “in several areas visited, the team of experts obtained confidential testimonies about the excessive use of force by Central African forces and Russian trainers,” including “indiscriminate assassinations, occupation of schools, and widespread looting, including for humanitarian organizations,” according to the report.
On Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded that “Russian military advisors cannot and did not take part in killings or looting,” adding at a press conference, “This is another slander.”
Numerous testimonies from different places in the Central African Republic, and from local authorities, internal security forces, and the army stated, “the active participation of Russian trainers in the fighting on the ground, as they often led operations and not only supported the Central African forces as they advanced in cities and villages,” according to the report.
The report detailed the violations committed against civilians by the Patriotic Alliance for Change, which was established at the end of 2020 and included several armed groups that control large parts of the country and intend to overthrow the authority.
The experts recommended that the Security Council expand its list of persons subject to sanctions in the Central African Republic and extend the arms embargo that expires on July 31, noting that Central Africa, Russia, China and several African countries are requesting its lifting.