UN Envoy Accuses Russian Mercenaries Of Human Rights Abuses In C.A.R.

The UN envoy to the Central African Republic (C.A.R.), as well as diplomats from the United States and France, has accused the national security forces and their Russian paramilitary allies of wide-ranging human rights abuses.

Russia helps President Faustin Archange Touadera combat rebel groups in the resource-rich country's ongoing civil war, including fielding Russian mercenaries and security details for government figures.

Moscow says it has only sent unarmed "instructors" to train the C.A.R. Defense Ministry.

Envoy Mankeur Ndiaye told the UN Security Council that human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law were "attributable to the Central African armed forces, bilateral forces, and other security personnel," referring to the hundreds of Russian paramilitaries deployed in the country.

UN report in March expressed concern about Russian paramilitaries participating in human rights abuses alongside C.A.R. government forces, and in some cases UN peacekeepers. The alleged abuses include mass summary executions, forced displacement of the civilian population, and indiscriminate targeting of civilian facilities.

Numerous witnesses and NGOs say the instructors are in fact paramilitaries from the Vagner Group, a Russian military contractor with ties to the government, who are actively participating alongside Rwandan special forces and UN peacekeepers in the fight against rebels.

Russia has significantly increased its presence and influence in the poor but resource-rich African country, where Russian national Valery Zakharov serves as national-security adviser to President Touadera.

The C.A.R. government has granted gold- and diamond-mining permits to Russian companies suspected of having links to Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the man believed to be the head of the Vagner Group.

Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the UN Richard Mills also addressed Russia's role at the UN Security Council.

"We are troubled as well by continued reports of Central African armed forces and Russian instructors committing violations of international humanitarian law," he said. "They are operating [as a] direct extension of Russia's Ministry of Defense."

France's ambassador to the UN, Nicolas de Riviere, also raised concerns.

"Some will attempt to deny the presence of the Vagner company. Therefore, who are these men involved in the fighting...and to whom do they answer for their actions?" he asked.

Last week, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian accused Russia of what he called a "seizure of power" in the Central African Republic in order to exploit natural resources.

"In the Central African Republic, there is a form of a seizure of power, and in particular of military power, by Russian mercenaries," he told BFM TV. "We are fighting this and it has led us to take measures to withdraw a certain number of our military personnel."

The French military earlier this month suspended financial aid and military cooperation with the Central African Republic, a former colony.

It accused the government of being "complicit" in an anti-French disinformation campaign backed by Russia.

With reporting by AFP