UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - France and the United States on Tuesday (Feb 22) at the UN Security Council denounced paramilitaries from Russian private security firm Wagner accused of civilian killings in the Central African Republic, a charge Russia denies.
"In Aigbando, in mid-January, more than a dozen civilians were killed. The testimonies were clear: the people were executed by Wagner mercenaries," French Ambassador to the UN Nicolas de Riviere told the 15-member council, adding that Wagner is the only entity in CAR that operates with impunity.
"Afterwards, the mercenaries planted mines around the village to stop MINUSCA from investigating," De Riviere said, referring to the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR.
"The violence is systematic, deliberate, it is part of a method that intends to provoke terror to control certain territories and draw profit," he added.
US ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the United States was "deeply concerned by reports that (Central African Armed Forces) and Wagner Group forces continue to target predominantly Muslim communities in their military operations".
She said "credible sources" reported Wagner forces killed "more than 30 unarmed civilians" in Aigbando, adding there were some 20 "execution-style killings".
"These forces are committing horrific acts and trampling over the human rights we have fought so hard to preserve for the people of CAR who deserve to have their human rights respected," Thomas-Greenfield said, calling on the government and MINUSCA to "hold accountable those responsible for these heinous acts".
In a recent report, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres referred to an operation carried out against suspected rebels in Aigbando between Jan 16 and 18 by the CAR military and Russian paramilitaries, which he said lead to the deaths of 17 civilians, without offering further details.
UN Russian diplomat Anna Estigneeva rejected the accusations on Tuesday.
Moscow claims to have no ties with Wagner and only recognises the presence of "Russian instructors" in CAR as part of an agreement with Bangui.
She called the charges "attempts to discredit" Russian specialists in the country, denouncing "hysterical campaigns" intended to prevent sovereign countries from choosing with whom to cooperate.
Norwegian ambassador to the UN Mona Juul called out Russia for blocking the renewal of the group of UN experts in charge of monitoring arms sanctions against CAR, a group Moscow has blasted as too pro-Western.