Mine Attack Stokes Fear of Russia Destabilizing CAR
Land mines that killed a United Nations peacekeeper from Rwanda and injured two others in the Central African Republic (CAR) may be linked to the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary outfit.
Days after the July 15 blast, Charles Bambara, communications manager of the U.N. mission in the CAR, accused the insurgent group Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation (3R) of using the anti-personnel and anti-tank mines against Central African Armed Forces (FACA) and the U.N.
Calling for swift justice, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said the deadly attack “may constitute war crimes under international law.”
Members of the CAR military suspect the Wagner Group furnished the mines and trained 3R to use them, the news site corbeaunews-centrafique.com (CNC) reported.
“This is the first time we’re talking about anti-personnel mines in CAR. Even at the height of the crisis between 2013-2015 in the country, no armed group has used this kind of weaponry,” an unidentified FACA officer told CNC. “Our army has been under a United Nations embargo for more than six years and does not have this type of weaponry whose use is prohibited.”
CNC said U.N. experts are analyzing the mines to determine their origin.
In August, the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced sanctions on 3R’s leader, Sidiki Abbas. His group has committed atrocities against civilians since 2015, and he is alleged to have personally participated in torturing detainees.
Russia gained a foothold in the CAR in December 2017, when the U.N. allowed it to import light arms and ammunition to supply the country’s Armed Forces. Russian planes began delivering weapons to Bangui, CAR’s capital, in January 2018.
In the summer of 2018, CAR granted mineral extraction permits to Lobaye Invest Sarlu, a Russian company, which now has a presence in at least four CAR cities, according to The Africa Report. Russia also began operating an airfield and started training the Central African National Guard and Army.
That March, 170 alleged Wagner operatives arrived in CAR to train government forces; 500 more appeared on the Sudan border in July, according to a report in The Atlantic.
The Wagner Group is believed to be funded by Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. It quickly acquired a violent reputation in CAR and around the continent.
In July 2018, the group was accused of murdering three Russian journalists who were investigating the organization’s activities in CAR for a documentary. The week of the July 2020 CAR explosion, the Wagner Group was accused of planting anti-personnel mines around Tripoli, Libya’s capital.
Russia now plans to establish military bases in six African nations, including CAR and Sudan. Between 2015 and August 2020, Russia completed military cooperation agreements with 21 African countries; it had such agreements with just four African countries before 2015, according to a report in Bild, a German newspaper.