A military vehicle struck a land mine in the Central African Republic (C.A.R.), killing at least two police officers and three Russian paramilitaries helping government forces battle rebel groups in the war-torn country.
“Three Russian allies and two Central African police officers were killed,” government spokesman Ange Maxime Kazagui told AFP on May 30.
Five members of the local security forces were also wounded in the attack, which occurred on May 28 in the west of the country on a road between Barberati and Bouar.
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.
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.
A UN report in Marchexpressed 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.
Russia has significantly increased its presence and influence in the C.A.R., where Russian national Valery Zakharov serves as national-security adviser to President Touadera, who was sworn in for a second five-year term on March 30 after winning an election in December.
Bangui has also granted gold- and diamond-mining permits to Russian companies suspected of having links to businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the man believed to be the head of the Vagner Group.
With reporting by AFP and Corbeau News