Three Russians carrying press cards have been killed in the troubled Central African Republic (CAR), security and religious sources said Tuesday.
Their corpses were found on a road 23 kilometers from the central town of Sibut after apparently being killed at a roadblock by unidentified men, an investigator told AFP.
The bodies have been taken to a U.N. peacekeeping base in Sibut, the sources said. Their driver is still missing.
“They were driving back from (the northern town) of Kaga Bandoro,” a religious source said.
A Russian security official reached in Bangui said Russia’s representatives in the CAR were not aware of the presence of any journalists from their country.
Rich in minerals, including uranium, the CAR is one of the poorest and most unstable countries in the world.
It plunged into violence after longtime leader Francois Bozize, a Christian, was overthrown in 2013 by a mainly Muslim rebel alliance.
Former colonial ruler France intervened militarily to push out the alliance before winding down the operation.
But President Faustin-Archange Touadera, Bozize’s elected successor, controls little of the country beyond the capital Bangui.
He governs with the support of a United Nations force of 13,000 troops and police, one of the biggest peacekeeping missions in the world.
Most of the CAR is controlled by 15 militias, many of which claim to represent Christian or Muslim communities but frequently clash over natural resources and revenue, which includes roadblocks.
Assaults on peacekeepers and aid workers have been frequent, but there has been no known attacks on Russians in recent memory.
Historically, the major player in the CAR has been France, but Russia has taken on a visible role since December last year, when it was authorized by the U.N. to provide the CAR armed forces with weapons and training.
The delivery was ostensibly aimed at shoring up the beleaguered central government and its chronically weak military — an exemption to a U.N. arms embargo imposed at the outbreak of conflict in 2013.
Britain, France and the United States voiced concern, demanding that deliveries be restricted to light arms and that Russia take steps to provide traceability to prevent the weapons from being sold on the black market.
Russia is also believed to have signed a range of deals with the government since then, including security for Touadera. His security advisor is also a Russian.
In May, Touadera met President Vladimir Putin at an economic gathering in St. Petersburg, where he thanked the Russian leader for Moscow’s help during “a difficult humanitarian situation” and “in the process of the country’s consolidation and reconciliation.”
In early July, Russia tried to set up a meeting in Sudan to mediate between the government and the militias, government sources say.
Touadera’s office said the Russian initiative was dropped as “the head of state believes there is no cause to engage in other processes while the African Union one is still underway.
Source: National News Agency