Russian military “instructors,” who are fighting alongside government troops in the Central African Republic (CAR), are facing allegations of killing civilians, looting, and committing gang rapes. A new investigation published by Radio France Internationale (RFI) cites accounts from local residents and internal documents from a UN Working Group on the use of mercenaries as evidence of these abuses.

The UN working group officially raised the alarm on March 31, due to the Central African authorities’ widespread use of private military companies (PMCs). The UN’s press release mentions three Russian entities in particular: the Wagner PMC, which is allegedly linked to notorious Russian oligarch Evgeny Prigozhin; Sewa Security Services, a company believed to be a Wagner PMC branch in the CAR; as well as Lobaye Invest SARLU, which is formally a local mining company established in 2017.

Internal UN documents obtained by RFI describe hundreds of cases involving human rights and international humanitarian law violations, committed by CAR troops together with their Russian allies (or by the Russian nationals on their own) between January 1 and mid-April 2021. Among other crimes, the reports list 26 extrajudicial executions, five rapes, and 27 cases involving arbitrary detention and imprisonment.

One example reports that after the CAR’s army and the Russian “instructors” recaptured the town of Bambari in December 2020, they broke into a mosque where both militants and civilians (including women and children) were hiding. According to eyewitness accounts, once inside, the Russians began “shooting in all directions” and then executed three young people. They also carried out mass arbitrary arrests in Bambari after recapturing the town; relatives of the detainees told RFI that their family members went missing after being detained.

The UN also documented several cases of sexual violence, which reportedly involved Russian nationals. A 20-year-old CAR resident told RFI that on February 15, several Russian-speaking men tricked her into getting into a car and took her to an unknown location, where they raped her throughout the night. “They tortured me like an animal. I don’t understand. I’m a person just like they are,” the woman said. “I thought the Russians were here to help us.”

Local residents also accuse the Russians of looting and setting fire to houses. “They even kill pigs. They don’t buy food. When they want to eat, they kill the animals that people keep,” a local resident told RFI. In the town of Benzambé — the birthplace of former CAR President and rebel leader François Bozizé — 120 houses were burned down, including the family home of the ex-president. “The Russians burned down all of the homes,” a Benzambé resident said.

The Russian Embassy in the CAR described the UN working group’s conclusions as “speculation” and urged it “to focus on investigating crimes committed by mercenaries from armed groups.”