Russian Mercenaries, Rebels Clash Over CAR Gold Mines
Rebel groups in the Central African Republic (CAR) are clashing with Russian Wagner Group mercenaries over access to the country’s mineral-rich mines.
Numerous reports indicate a recent upswing in fighting, including an ambush in which seven Wagner mercenaries died.
Ahmadou Ali, a senior leader in the rebel Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC), claimed the January attack in northeastern CAR near the border with Sudan.
“They fell into the trap,” he told The Guardian. “We have lost two [killed] and many injured, but we defeated them and confiscated many military trucks.”
Unlike many other reported skirmishes around gold and diamond mines in the past year, CAR’s government forces were not involved in the January confrontation.
“It was a battle between us and the Russians,” Ali said. “They only use the government troops to legitimize things.”
The Wagner Group, an international mercenary business with direct backing from the Kremlin, often carries out Russian foreign policy initiatives on the continent. While the mercenaries typically prop up fragile governments, their partnerships have come at a terrible cost to civilians.
The United Nations and rights groups have accused Wagner mercenaries of massacres, summary executions, torture and other atrocities.
Russian operatives have embedded themselves in the CAR government since 2017, when the Wagner Group helped stave off rebel attempts to topple President Faustin-Archange Touadéra.
Wagner has an estimated force of 1,000 operatives in CAR. Their focus has been on using mining concessions and smuggling operations to help Russia finance its war in Ukraine, despite heavy international sanctions.
Using heavy weaponry, drones and helicopters, Wagner fighters repeatedly have clashed with and killed civilians over CAR’s natural resources, which provide a livelihood to many.
Catrina Doxsee, a transnational threats expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, said the mercenaries have expanded their mining efforts significantly in the past year.
“These new developments that they’re taking indicate long-term plans for the mine,” she told Politico, which reported that Wagner mining profits could approach $1 billion.
“The fact that they are establishing an expanded mining operation, that they’re establishing these long-term plans, I think really points to how integrated they’ve become with the local military and the level of dependency that the CAR government has on them.”
Enrica Picco, Central Africa project director for the International Crisis Group and a former member of the U.N. panel of experts on CAR, said Wagner’s move into frontier zones around the borders with Cameroon, Chad and Sudan has united rebel factions.
“This really sparked tensions between the armed groups that were trying to protect their last source of revenue in the north of the country and the government forces and Russian allies,” Picco told Bloomberg.
Wagner doesn’t fully control all the mining sites, she said, and there still is fighting at several.
Abdu Buda, a spokesman for one of the rebel groups that make up the CPC, said intense fighting has occurred in northeastern CAR.
“There are many resources in this area,” he told Bloomberg.
He said rebel forces have notched several victories since November 2022, killing Wagner mercenaries and taking over territory in the east, west and south of CAR.
He claimed that rebels were 450 kilometers from the capital, Bangui, something the CAR government denied.
A study by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project found that Wagner mercenaries targeted civilians in CAR in 52% of the country’s instances of political violence.
Human Rights Watch has accused the Wagner Group of having “summarily executed, tortured, and beaten civilians since 2019.”
“There is compelling evidence that Russian-identified forces supporting the Central African Republic’s government have committed grave abuses against civilians with complete impunity,” the organization’s crisis and conflict director, Ida Sawyer, said in a 2022 statement.
“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.”
The CPC rebel coalition has vowed to keep fighting.
“The Russians have taken over the country,” Ali sad. “They are everywhere. They guard the borders, and you see them everywhere there are [valuable] resources.
“They stole all our resources.”
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