Berliner Tageblatt - Bangui hails Russian 'saviours' of battered C. Africa

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Bangui hails Russian 'saviours' of battered C. Africa
Bangui hails Russian 'saviours' of battered C. Africa / Photo: ©

Bangui hails Russian 'saviours' of battered C. Africa

Russia has been branded a pariah for invading Ukraine, but in the remote Central African Republic, the country has fans -- supporters who say its paramilitaries "saved" their war-torn country.

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Beneath a statue of Russian fighters protecting a woman and her children, civilians joined a military tribute in Bangui on Wednesday to thank Russians who 14 months ago helped prevent a takeover by armed rebels.

The "Russian monument," as the people of the capital call it, stands in a square of reddish clay earth near the university.

About a hundred people of all ages waved Russian and CAR flags before troops from an elite unit and figures close to the government.

Some held up banners and signs proclaiming "Central Africans with Russia" and even "Russia will save the Donbass from war" -- a reference to the Ukrainian territory that President Vladimir Putin cited as justification for Thursday's attack.

In December 2020, as elections loomed, a coalition of armed groups advanced on Bangui, prompting President Faustin Archange Touadera to appeal to the Kremlin for help under bilateral accords.

Russia sent hundreds of paramilitaries to the deeply poor and landlocked country, where they joined others who had been present for three years. Rwanda also sent a military contingent.

In a few months, with Russian backing, the CAR's ill-equipped and poorly-trained army drove back rebels who had occupied two-thirds of the CAR's territory.

Today, government forces have regained control over the major cities -- the immediate crisis is over, although the threat of violence remains.

The rebels have scattered into the countryside, where they launch attacks on the security forces and civilians.

- 'Wagner' controversy -

Russia describes its personnel as "unarmed instructors," but the UN and France -- CAR's colonial power and traditional ally -- say they are from Wagner, a private and unaccountable security firm.

The help has come at a cost, for the operatives have been accused of extrajudicial killings and other abuses.

Last year, a group of UN experts denounced abuses committed against civilians by the CAR armed forces and their Russian allies.

And on Tuesday, France and the United States alleged at the UN Security Council on Tuesday that Wagner "mercenaries" killed dozens of civilians last month.

In July 2018, three Russian journalists investigating Wagner's activities in the CAR were ambushed and killed.

- 'Real peace' -

Inaugurated by Touadera with great fanfare in December as a "tribute to the Russian armed forces and fighters," the statue bears no inscription.

"The Russians have always been there on our side," claimed Yefi Kezza, a member of Touadera's United Hearts Movement (MCU) and also of the National Galaxy Platform, which organised the tribute and vilifies France and the UN.

"The Russians came and did a remarkable job to liberate the Central African people," added Blaise-Didacien Kossimatchi, another member of the National Galaxy Platform.

Several demonstrators sported T-shirts stamped "I am Wagner," identifying with the controversial security firm which supports the Kremlin's interests -- with deniability.

Soldiers of the 6th Territorial Infantry Battalion, an elite unit of the Central African Armed Forces (FACA), snapped to attention for the CAR national anthem.

Their commander laid a wreath at the foot of the statue in hommage to the "Defenders of the Fatherland."

None of the Russian paramilitaries or diplomats who usually attend such events was to be seen, however.

"The peace that the FACA and the Russians have brought us is truly the peace of God," announced one speaker at the microphone, rousing cheers from the crowd.

"What interests us is to have real peace," said Nelson Ezechiel Yangelema, a first-year student in the faculty of science.

"The Russians must still give the CAR a helping hand."