Report: Wagner Kidnapping Children to Work in CAR Mines
Christelle Youmbi’s 11-year-old son was taking a bath behind their house in the Boko-Boudeye community of the Central African Republic when Wagner Group mercenaries grabbed the naked boy and carried him away as he struggled to escape.
“I begged them to tell me where they were taking him to, but they refused to say anything,” Youmbi told news website The Daily Beast.
In all, Wagner mercenaries snatched seven boys between the ages of 10 and 13 from the community that day, according to reports. They told Youmbi they were taking the community’s boys to keep them safe ahead of a rebel attack.
Observers say it’s more likely the boys were put to work in the gold and diamond mines that Wagner affiliates operate in the country.
The Wagner Group is expanding its operations across Africa, focusing on countries with two factors in common: authoritarian leaders trying to stay in power and readily accessible resources such as gold, oil and diamonds that can be sold quickly for cash.
Since arriving in the Central Africa Republic (CAR) in 2018, Wagner largely has had free rein in the country. Wagner has been accused of attacking villages, killing artisanal miners, raping girls and young women, and committing other human rights violations — all under the cover of helping the government fight rebel groups.
In 2021, Wagner fighters were part of an assault on a mosque in Bambari that left 21 people dead.
Youmbi and her neighbors in Boko-Boudeye fled their home community of Bouar after fighting erupted there in early 2021 between rebels and government forces. Youmbi’s husband disappeared during the fighting.
“We had settled down well in Boko-Boudeye until the white soldiers came and took our sons,” Youmbi said.
In January of this year, Wagner fighters, accompanied by personnel from the CAR military, killed at least 70 people in the mining communities of Aïgbado and Yanga before setting fire to some of the homes there.
Wagner fighters killed dozens of miners between March and May and as many as 100 more in July in the area of Andaha as the group seeks to control mines across the country, according to reports.
“Every miner who worked in the Andaha area has either been killed or forced to run away,” artisanal miner Patrice told The Daily Beast. “So many are missing.”
In some cases, foreign miners have returned to their homes in Chad, Niger or in Sudan, where Wagner also has gold mining operations under an agreement with the military junta that controls the country.
As the number of adult miners in the CAR has shrunk, Wagner mercenaries have begun kidnapping children to replace them in the open-pit mines, Sylvestre, a 27-year-old artisanal miner, told The Daily Beast. The publication identified miners by their first names only to protect their identities.
Sylvestre said he had counted up to 20 children working in a Russian-controlled gold mine near Bambari.
The mine operators prefer children because they are more likely to follow commands and are less likely to fight back while laboring with shovels and sieves to find raw diamonds or the glint of gold, other witnesses told The Daily Beast.
“Children will do whatever you ask them to do, and they won’t be greedy,” a local chief in the mining community of Kouki said. Adult miners, he said, will work under Russian control only if forced to do so.
“And if that were to happen,” he said, “one day these miners would find a way to revolt against them.”