By Spy Uganda Correspondent
A recent spate of attacks purportedly carried out by Russian armed groups in a gold-mining area of Central African Republic (CAR) has left hundreds dead and sent thousands more fleeing over the border into Sudan, according to reports.
In a series of assaults that took place between 14 and 18 March, Russian armed groups killed civilians from Sudan, Chad, Niger, and the CAR, survivors told Middle East Eye.
”What we saw was very brutal and bloody. They used these aggressive forces and weapons against the civilians,” says Adam Zakaria an eyewitness.
The attacks took place 200km west of the border with Sudan and 400km east of the CAR’s capital Bangui, eyewitnesses said, in an area known as Andaha.
Thousands have fled the area for Sudan, with small-scale gold miners losing millions of US dollars worth of gold and property in total.
Survivors said that they believed the perpetrators belonged to the Wagner Group, which is widely thought to have a presence in Sudan, as well as CAR, for a number of years.
With the current war in Ukraine creating an acute need in Moscow for money and gold reserves, monitors believe Russian forces are aiming to expel miners from the region in order to then smuggle gold and diamonds back to Russia. Wagner Group fighters have also been pictured in eastern Ukraine.
Russia’s ruble plummetted after the invasion began and sanctions began to be laid on by Western powers. But capital control measures have helped stabilize the currency, with some speculating that gold reserves were being used by the Russian government to prop up the ruble.
The military government in Sudan has since the 25 October coup that brought it to power looked to strengthen and build on pre-existing ties with Moscow.
Khartoum’s de facto deputy leader, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, commonly known as Hemeti, spent a week in Russia at the end of February and the beginning of March, defending Putin’s assault on Ukraine and saying he was open to Moscow establishing a naval base on Sudan’s Red Sea coast.
The Sudanese believe the Wagner Group was behind the attacks, adding that Russian companies “want to expel traditional miners so that they can control the gold mining areas in CAR – and then in the entire Sahel region – themselves”.
Hunt For Diamonds And Gold
A fellow Sudanese victim of the attack, 30-year-old Zakaria Mohamed Abdallah, also lost thousands of dollars and many kilos of gold.
He said that miners are active in collecting gold as well as diamonds in the area of Silonka, which is about 15km from Andaha.
“That was the most aggressive scene I ever saw in my life,” he said. “They slaughtered everybody. I saw at least 20 bodies stranded randomly. They looted us as we fled using motorbikes to cross the border to Um Dafuq.”
Abdallah accused Sudanese forces of opening the door to a Russian presence in the region, saying also that the Sudanese military were camped on the border with CAR and that they mistreated him and the other fleeing miners.
Haroun Adam, another victim of the attack, said that Russian mercenaries, alongside some fighters from CAR’s Banda people, had attacked gold miners in different locations in and around Andaha, in the country’s northeast, killing dozens of people from Sudan and Chad who are working there.
He said that there is wide-ranging conflict over the control of gold mining between the Seleka and anti-Balaka, two rebel groups that have been fighting each other in CAR for a number of years but which are now hobbled by investigations into their abuses and calls for trials.
Nevertheless, this conflict, Adam said, was impacting the entire region, with Russian forces currently supporting the CAR government of President Faustin-Archange Touadera – who in turn is now almost completely dependent on Moscow – and looking to empty the area of foreigners and locals alike.
As reported by Africa Confidential, clashes between the Wagner Group and the UN’s mission to CAR, Minusca, have worsened of late, with the Russian-inspired detention of four French soldiers at Bangui airport and the departure of Mankeur Ndiaye, Minusca’s head, prompting a reckoning.
Last March, Ndiaye visited Moscow to complain about Wagner but received no assurances. On his return to CAR, he said publicly that the private military group was a problem for the UN as well as France.
Wagner and its supporters responded, organizing demonstrations against Minusca and spreading accusations online that UN employees were engaging in smuggling, raping, trafficking children, and any number of other hideous crimes.