Sun, 04 Jun 2023

Nairobi, Kenya - Nearly two hundred people demonstrated this week in support of Russia and China in the Central African Republic after nine Chinese workers were killed by gunmen in an attack.

The CAR is one of Africa's poorest countries and has been battling rebel groups for a decade.

Without evidence, the CAR government blamed rebels for the killings. But the rebels are pointing the finger at Russia's Wagner group, which has been deployed in the capital Bangui since 2018 to protect the CAR government.

At the demonstrations that took place in Bangui Wednesday inscriptions on banners ranged from 'Support for China" to 'Russia is Wagner, we love Russia. We love Wagner."

The show of support follows the killing of nine Chinese employees Sunday in a shooting at the Gold Coast Group gold mine.

Abdoul Asy Babia, a third-year public law student, participated in the protests.

'We stand in solidarity with the embassy and China because China is a great country that has helped the Central African Republic a great deal. We have the example of the Amities ... and the Domicien hospitals."

This iwas not the first time Chinese workers have been killed an attack in the CAR, said Charles Bouessel, a senior consultant at the International Crisis Group.

"In 2019 for instance, three Chinese workers were killed in the northwest of the country, he said. "They were lynched by the population, which accused them of not respecting the law. ... This manifestation happened the day after [Russian President] Vladimir Putin met with [Chinese President] Xi Jinping. We see on the international side that China and Russia are allied and the accusations [by the Coalition of Patriots for Change] that Wagner was behind this attack could've harmed the relationship between China and Russia."

Without evidence, Prime Minister Felix Moloua, last Sunday, blamed the attack on the CPC, an alliance of rebel groups.

"The CPC is composed of six of the most powerful armed groups of the country," said Bouessel. "It was created in late 2020 to overthrow the current regime [of President Austin Archange Touadera]. CPC launched an attack in January 2021 but it failed and it brought CPC to reorganize itself. ... Until a few months ago, the CPC leader was Francois Bozize."

But exiled former CAR President Francois Bozize has relocated recently to Guinea Bissau. So, the CPC leadership seems to have shifted, Bouessel told VOA.

"For now, we see the two warlords may be the most important leaders of this coalition right now," he said. It's Noureddine Adam, former leader of SPSC armed group, which is part of the CPC and the other one is Ali Darassa who runs the UPC armed group."

In a statement, the CPC denied being involved in the gold mine attack and accused Russia's Wagner mercenary group of being behind it, also without providing evidence.

Russian paramilitaries were deployed to the CAR in 2018 to fend off an assault on the capital by the CPC.

Abdoulaye Diarra, an Amnesty International researcher based in Dakar, Senegal, told VOA it's difficult to say who's responsible for the killings because of conditions in the area where they took place.

"The Chimboro area is near 25 kilometers from Bambari and this area is at the heart of rivalries for access to resources, in particular gold," he said. In the past, the area was occupied by armed groups belonging to CPC and they use to take illegal taxes from gold miners to help them finance their activities, but since December 2020, they were driven out and the authorities have relative control actually of the gold mine .... Security is not fully restored and you still have some insecurity that remains in this area."

Diarra's team has spoken to residents.

"Local sources told us that the attacks started at 5 am and [lasted] for at least one hour. They don't know who exactly the perpetrators are."

Earlier this week, Chinese President Xi called on Bangui to "severely punish' the killers.

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