In return for her work, the group has been given direct access to the Central African Republic’s natural resources, said Sorcha MacLeod, a member of the UN Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries.
“We have received information in the Central African Republic that the Wagner group was paid in mining concessions,” she said.
The trade in natural resources offers Wagner and Russia a way to circumvent sanctions imposed since the start of the war in Ukraine last February.
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And now, despite Wagner sending tens of thousands of fighters to war in Ukraine, many of them former captives, there has been no exodus of the group from Africa. Instead, there is a “doubling of Wagner’s presence” and an expansion to other countries, MacLeod said.
The mercenary group operates in an unstable environment. The Central African Republic has suffered a series of coups and failed governments since gaining independence from France in 1960. The latest coup in 2013, pitting Christian and Muslim militias against each other, was organized by a coalition of rebel groups called Séléka.
A UN peacekeeping mission failed to stamp out the violence fact that hundreds of his soldiers have been sent home following reports of sexual abuse.
Mines and mercenaries
Everywhere Wagner has gone, allegations of widespread and unchecked human rights violations, including execution, rape and torture, followed.
Although Touadéra never used the word Wagner, Sewa Security Services and the Officers Union for International Security both operate in the Central African Republic on behalf of the mercenary group, according to the US Treasury Departmentwho sanctioned them.
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Prior to the interview with Touadéra, an NBC News crew saw two of the top Wagner representatives in the country, Vitaly Perfilev and Dmitry Sytii, escort a Russian television crew into the president’s offices. Perfilev has been sanctioned by the European Union for being “responsible for serious human rights violations” while working for Wagner in the country.
NBC News has examined Wagner’s role in acquiring the Ndassima gold mine in the center of the country and developing the site into a large-scale operation with the potential to bring the group hundreds of millions of dollars in profits.
Officially, the Russian “instructors” were on a mission to clear rebels from the area by 2021. However, witnesses and official reports accuse the group of attacking civilians, some of whom engaged in small-scale or “artisan” mining in the area.
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According to the US-based advocacy group The Sentry, Wagner forcibly took control of Ndassima.
A 25-year-old woman, whose name is withheld for her protection, told NBC News that her husband was working at the mine when he was ordered down by Russian fighters in the fall of 2021.
“When they came, they presented documents stating that it was the government of our country that gave them permission and that this area is now theirs,” she said. “They didn’t say with their own mouths that they were Russians, but we knew they were Russians.”
After her husband refused to leave and give up his work at the mine, she said, he was shot dead along with seven colleagues.
“They came for our wealth, for our gold,” she said. “They have already started killing our husbands for the wealth of our own country.”
NBC News was unable to independently verify the specific account, and traveling to the areas around the mines could be dangerous. In 2018, three Russian journalists were murdered in the Central African Republic while investigating Wagner, the Investigation Control Center team’s editor said. (The newsgroup, backed by leading anti-Putin activist Mikhail Khodorkovsky, closed after the journalists’ deaths.)