UNITED NATIONS — The U.S. and France criticized mercenaries in the Central African Republic from the Russian security company Wagner, accusing them on Tuesday of executing civilians, attacking U.N. peacekeepers and targeting predominantly Muslim communities in their military operations.
Russia never mentioned mercenaries or Wagner in responding, but said that “Russian specialists” are working “successfully” in the African nation at the request of its government, including training the military.
The exchange came at a U.N. Security Council meeting during which outgoing U.N. special representative Mankeur Ndiaye said that “the Central African people are still awaiting the dividends of peace.”
He also never mentioned Wagner, but he called on government authorities to take immediate and tangible measures to prevent human rights violations committed by defense and security forces “and other security personnel.”
The mineral-rich but impoverished Central African Republic has faced deadly intercommunal fighting since 2013, when predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power and forced President Francois Bozize from office. Mostly Christian militias later fought back, also targeting civilians in the streets. Untold thousands were killed, and most of the capital’s Muslims fled in fear.
A peace deal between the government and 14 rebel groups was signed in February 2019, but violence erupted after the constitutional court rejected Bozize’s candidacy to run for president in December 2020. President Faustin Archange Touadera won a second term with 53% of the vote, but he continues to face opposition from a rebel coalition linked to Bozize.
Despite the declaration of an electoral cease-fire in October, Ndiaye said, “the security situation continues to be concerning.” He noted there are military operations under way against armed groups and the rebel coalition, and retaliation against national security forces and the civilian population as well.
He deplored violations of human rights and humanitarian rights that he said continue to be committed by all parties. He said that includes excessive use of force, the targeting of some communities, sexual abuse, and the recruitment and use of children by armed groups.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said that Central African Republic security forces and Wagner contractors — “referred to as `other security personnel’” in Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ latest report to the Security Council — “perpetrated over 40% of all violations documented” between October and February.
Both Thomas-Greenfield and Fraench Ambassador Nicolas De Riviere singled out an attack in Aigbando on Jan. 16-17.
She said credible sources reported that Wagner forces in the town “massacred more than 30 unarmed civilians.” He said more than a dozen civilians were executed by Wagner’s mercenaries who then laid mines around the village to prevent the U.N. peacekeeping force from investigating.
“This is not an isolated incident,” De Riviere said. “This violence is systematic, it is deliberate, it is part of a method of provoking terror to control certain territories and make money from them.”
He said some of the government’s armed forces were also attacked by Wagner, and he called on authorities to prosecute all perpetrators of violence, “whoever they may be.”
Thomas-Greenfield said government forces “working with the Kremlin-supported Wagner Group perpetrated 17 violations” of the status of forces agreement between the government’s military and U.N. peacekeepers in the past four months. She said that was “totally unacceptable.”
She said the United States is also “deeply concerned” at reports that the armed forces and Wagner continue to target predominantly Muslim communities, which “poses grave risks to the country’s delicate social fabric, and it contributes to further destabilization.”
The United States urges the government to cooperate with the U.N. peacekeeping force and other partners to investigate all allegations and hold those responsible accountable, she said.
Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Anna Evstigneeva, responded to the accusations, alluding to the crisis in Ukraine and Russia’s demand that NATO ban membership for Ukraine, which the alliance has rejected.
“In light of recent global events, including some developments in Africa, we are struck by the hypocrisy of some of our colleagues’ statements,” Evstogeeva told the council. “While underscoring sovereign right of states to choose partners and alliances, our Western colleagues may go hysterical if they do not like partners that a state has chosen, and cry that a sovereign state in question allegedly has no right to embark on such partnerships.”
She also accused council members of repeating “unverified information about alleged cases of human rights violations and crimes” in Central African Republic and asked why they didn’t demand investigations into U.S. airstrikes in Kabul in which dozens of people died.