Wagner Group Accused of Killing 70 at Mine in Aïgbado, Central African Republic

ONEBUJA, Nigeria — Prince Ngoma is about to depart for a mining site in Central African RepublicAïgbado’s (CAR) village east of Aïgbado when heavily armed Russian mercenaries in a pickup truck sped up, opened fire and burned down houses in the area.

“They don’t say a word to anyone, only their guns talk,” said Ngoma, who was only there to meet a friend. “I saw people screaming and falling on the ground. It was only by luck that I survived.”

For about 20 minutes around noon on January 16, Ngoma said, the Russians opened fire repeatedly in front of fighters from the Union for Peace (UPC) rebel group, whose mercenaries repeatedly take aim, appear, and begin to return fire, inflicting injury. four fighters and forced the Russians to retreat.

“We counted eight bodies after the Russians left,” he told The Daily Beast. “These are civilians killed on the spot in the shooting.”

But the Russians were not satisfied. As hundreds of frightened villagers fled to the nearby community of Yanga (40 miles from Aïgbado), Russian mercenaries, this time accompanied by a CAR government force commonly known as FACA, chased them there and decimated them. Kill as many people as possible.

“The murders took place in two days.” Abdoulaye Ishmael, a farmer in Yanga, told The Daily Beast. “Since the incident, we have counted 70 bodies.”

The United Nations, through spokesman Stéphane Dujarric, said it had received reports of an incident involving CAR troops and “other security personnel” and was “currently confirming the number of casualties and the to move”. A national human rights group called MINUSCA was sent to the area — and they may have been shocked by what they found.

Locals say that there are corpses scattered in the forest between Aïgbado and Yanga, while fishermen in the Kotto River that flows through Yanga have picked up 14 dead bodiesincluding women and children, according to local reports.

“Every day we keep seeing new corpses,” said Ishmael. “The number of people killed by Russia is probably more than we have seen or heard so far.”

Report of Russian aggression in CAR has become the norm. Since 2018 the murders of three Russian journalists are investigating the local activities of Wagner’s groupa mercenary outfit associated with the Russian President’s close associate Yevgeny Prigozhin, hostility towards locals in the impoverished Central African nation is on the rise.

In December 2020, Wagner mercenary shot at a truck for failing to stop at a checkpoint in the town of Bambari, injuring the driver and killing three passengers, according to a CNN report. Two months later, the Russians opened fire at a mosque in Bambari, killed about 21 people, including children and the elderly, before burning down nearby houses. Last March, it has also been reported that the Russians had shot dead a local leader, who they accused of providing light support for the rebels near the town of Bambari. A month later, Wagner mercenaries kidnapped four community leaders from Bria and, As reported by The Daily Beast before, takes them to an undisclosed location before storming Koui to capture the king of the northwestern town, along with his bodyguards and assistants. They then announced that three men had been killed in a landmine explosion not far from the monarch’s home.

The latest wave of atrocities that began in mid-January may still be going. Sources told The Daily Beast that the Russians have blocked access to Aïgbado and Yanga, and restricted movement in and out of the communities. The local media are reporting that the mercenaries had set up an outpost in Aïgbado and anyone who tried to leave the village was shot at. Residents say people are living in fear.

“Everybody in Aïgbado is scared to go on the street because anything can happen to you if you face the Russians and the FACA,” said Ngoma. “There are a number of villagers missing since January 16, and we suspect they were killed or kidnapped by Russian mercenaries and the FACA.”

Since December 2017, when Russia was exempted from a United Nations arms embargo that allowed Moscow to deliver weapons and train CAR forces, Wagner mercenaries have swarmed across the resilient African nation , often guarding the lucrative gold and diamond mines. Wagner recruited many of his mercenaries from the Russian military intelligence agency known as the GRU. Prigozhin – often referred to as “Putin’s chef” because of the huge contracts awarded to his catering company – is the mastermind behind both Wagner and Russia’s involvement in CAR and Africa; not knowing how closely he consulted with his comrades in the Kremlin

Prigozhin’s private army is also involved in recent coups in Mali and Burkina Fasoboth of which have large gold mines.

Considered one of the world’s poorest countries, CAR fell into civil war in 2013. A predominantly Muslim rebel coalition known as Séléka took control of the capital, Bangui, toppling the government. government and began pillaging villages. They also target Christians and supporters of the former president. In response, the Christians began a bloody program of ethnic cleansing against the Muslim minority, prompting the United Nations to impose an arms embargo and create a peacekeeping mission.

Muslim rebels and Christian fighters still control much of the country and continue to fight each other for control of territory and mineral resources. A helpless Faustin-Archange Touadéra, who was sworn in as president in 2016, turned to Russia for security assistance a few months after taking office and Moscow accepted but with a deal that allowed Russia to explore destroying CAR’s natural resources, and Wagner mercenaries are doing so with brutality.

“What happened here in Aïgbado confirms what people say, that going to a gold mine in this country is like a death sentence,” said Ngoma. “You just can’t survive in an environment that the Russians are very interested in.”

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