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The Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary group with known ties to the Kremlin, has been operating in the central African nation since 2018 after authorities signed an agreement with the CAR to train its forces.
This undated photograph handed out by French military shows three Russian mercenaries, right, in northern Mali. Russia has engaged in under-the-radar military operations in at least half a dozen countries in Africa in the last five years using a shadowy mercenary force analysts say is loyal to President Vladimir Putin. The analysts say the Wagner Group of mercenaries is also key to Putin’s ambitions to re-impose Russian influence on a global scale. (French Army via AP)
The CAR has been embroiled in a civil war for roughly a decade and in 2018 sought the support of the Wagner group to counter rebel and militia groups.
Human Rights Watch on Tuesday claimed the Russian security firm has been acting with impunity and said, “There is compelling evidence that Russian-identified forces supporting the Central African Republic’s government have committed grave abuses.”
“The failure of the Central African Republic government and its partners to forcefully denounce these abuses, and to identify and prosecute those responsible, will most likely only fuel further crimes in Africa and beyond,” crisis and conflict director at Human Rights Watch Ida Sawyer said.
The UN announced last a month that it would be launching an investigation into a series of events in which nearly a dozen people were killed in an area in the northeast of the CAR, with some reports suggesting the Russian forces may have been involved.
Human Rights Watch said it interviewed 40 people, including 10 victims and 15 witnesses, between 2019 and 2021 who said atrocities had been committed by “men with white skin speaking Russian.”
This undated photograph handed out by French military shows Russian mercenaries boarding a helicopter in northern Mali. (French Army via AP)
Russia has denied that the Wagner group – which has also reportedly been deployed in eastern Ukraine where some of the most brutal fighting has occurred – is associated with the Kremlin.
But the group is believed to be backed by businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin who is suspected of having close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
And in 2020 the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Prigozhin by going after “entities and individuals working on behalf of Prigozhin to advance Russia’s influence in the Central African Republic.”
Human Rights Watch pointed to several accounts of arbitrary detentions, beatings, torture and killings by these Russian troops in the CAR and has called on the nation’s Special Criminal Court (SCC) and the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate these atrocities for prosecution.
This image taken from a video shows soldiers burying bodies near an army base in northern Mali. The French military says it has videos of Russian mercenaries burying bodies near an army base in northern Mali. (French Army via AP)
CAR training with the Russian paramilitary group was set to end in March 2018. But the European Union, United Nations and the U.S. have warned that the Wagner Group remained inside the central African nation.
A November 2021 report by the EU also found that “most” CAR army units were “operating under [the] direct command or supervision [of] Wagner Group mercenaries.”