By Michelle Nichols
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Russian military instructors and Central African Republic (CAR) troops targeted civilians with excessive force, indiscriminate killings, occupation of schools and large-scale looting, according to a United Nations report seen by Reuters on Tuesday.
The sanctions experts report to the U.N. Security Council also accuses groups linked to the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) rebels of forced recruitment of children, attacks on peacekeepers, sexual violence and the looting of aid groups.
Russia and France, which has some 300 troops in the African nation, have been competing for influence in the gold and diamond-rich country of 4.7 million. Russia sent hundreds of military instructors to arm and train government troops against rebels.
“Russian military advisers could not and did not take part in the killings or robberies. This is yet another lie,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday in response to the accusations in the U.N. report.
CAR has been mired in violence since a coalition of mostly Muslim rebels known as Seleka seized power in March 2013.
In recent months the army – backed by U.N. peacekeepers, Russian and Rwandan troops – has been battling the CPC rebels seeking to overturn a Dec. 27 vote in which President Faustin-Archange Touadera was declared the winner.
Among the accusations detailed in the annual U.N. sanctions report is that CAR soldiers, known as FACA, and Russian instructors killed at least six civilians at a mosque during an operation against CPC rebels.
“FACA soldiers and Russian instructors targeted the mosque despite the known presence of civilians and without respect for the religious nature of the building. According to eyewitnesses … no efforts were made to distinguish between civilians and fighters,” the U.N. experts wrote.
The U.N. experts also recounted an accusation that CAR troops and Russian instructors looted an aid group and stole goods worth $1,850, including kits for sexual violence victims.
Russia told the U.N. experts that as of April 18, there were 532 instructors in Central African Republic. The experts, however, noted “that multiple sources estimated that figure to be significantly higher, ranging from 800 to 2,100,” with instructors deployed including people who said they were from Libya, Syria and elsewhere.
Top CAR and Russian officials told the U.N. experts they were aware of the accusations but rejected them, saying it was the interest of the rebels to spread those stories.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Bill Berkrot)