ABUJA, Nigeria—Russia’s notorious Wagner Group is liberated hard-line rebels held in cells in Central African Republic and deployed them abroad, including in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, two senior military officers at CAR told The Daily Beast.
According to sources in CAR, where armed rebels have controlled much of the country for about a decade, dozens of men have been detained by the military and police for years. crimes like rape and murder currently recruited into Wagner’s local wing, which consists of hundreds of fighters commonly known as “Black Russians”. Many of the recruits are rebels who the military considers terrorists because they use violence and illegal threats against civilians and the armed forces to pursue political goals, officers said.
“Since October, they [Wagner paramilitaries] went into army and police cells and freed the rebels, including those arrested for attacking the village of Bokolobo [in southern CAR] in May and for raping women and girls,” an officer working at CAR’s military headquarters in Bangui, the capital, told The Daily Beast. “Nobody can stop them because the government has given them too much power to act the way they want.”
Another military officer told The Daily Beast that rebels arrested for attacking and killing CAR soldiers during an attack on a military camp southeast of the town of Bakouma in April was also liberated by Russian mercenaries. The official said Wagner’s paramilitary force had told military officials that the released rebels would work for the group overseas.
“Surname [Wagner] said they needed personnel urgently in Mali and Ukraine,” the CAR military officer told The Daily Beast. “I think more than 20 people we are keeping [for very serious crimes] has been released.”
Many of the CAR’s high-risk criminals, particularly rebels accused of the harm, rape and murder of civilians are held in military and police cells rather than in understaffed conventional prisons. members and poor warranties. Although the detainees are being held by local forces, Wagner mercenaries—who have been active in CAR since the government turned to Russia for help in securing weapons and sales forces military in 2017—continues to exert influence over the Central African nation’s security services.
According to a former UPC member, among the prisoners released by Russian mercenaries was a notorious fighter from the Union for Peace (UPC) rebel group, known by his colleagues as Mohammed. The released insurgent is believed to have taken part in the Bokolobo attack in May. He allegedly joined Wagner’s local unit in late October and is now among dozens of black Russians believed to have been deployed to Ukraine.
“[Mohammed] and four others were accused of raping and killing civilians in Bokolobo and were held by soldiers for months at Camp du Kassaï [in Bangui],” Ali, who was recruited by the Wagner Group after leaving UPC last December, told The Daily Beast. “We were surprised to see that he became a black Russian and even made the Ukrainian shortlist.”
Before Russia invaded Ukraine, according to Ali, whose name—like other sources—The Daily Beast changed to protect him from possible retribution, rebels were captured by Russian mercenaries or Captive CAR forces are often executed while in custody.
“They will kill you [while in custody] and bring your dead body back to the very place where you were captured and dumped there,” Ali said. “They’ve done it with many of our colleagues.”
But at this point, Ali said, rebels captured by Wagner or CAR forces are more likely to engage in negotiations with the Russians than to be punished. “They even give you money to join [Wagner]and for a lot of people, that’s much better than being a rebel,” he said.
“They’re just taking people away.“
In October, the Russians also allegedly released a man known to his colleagues as Little Bouba.
According to another former UPC rebel who later became a black Russian, Little Bouba was arrested around June after being accused of helping mastermind attacks on CAR forces in the east of the country last month. Two.
“He was accused of killing soldiers,” said Hassan, who — like Ali — was recruited by the Wagner Group after leaving UPC last December. “Now, he’s a black Russian because they need him to fight in Ukraine.”
Wagner mercenaries also tried to pick up prisoners from the CAR prisons but had not much luck. In June, an Egyptian army belonging to the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) prevented some Russian mercenaries from releasing five prisoners from the Roux military prison. in Bangui, according to HumAngle, a West African publication. The newspaper reported that among the Russians attempting to release was Tidjani Hamit, a former rebel of the Patriotic Front for the Revival of the Central African Republic (PFRC) who was arrested by MINUSCA six years ago in Subit. .
Wagner Corporation is used prisoners to fight Russia’s war in Ukraine. In July, Yevgeny Prigozhin, Wagner’s supreme man, began touring prisons in Russia in an increasingly desperate attempt to recruit more soldiers to send to Ukraine. He was then accused of using “pressure” to recruit raped and abused prisoners from Russia’s penal colonies to join. mercenary group’s frontline combat unitwhere they are being slaughtered with little training and poor equipment.
In Russia, Prigohin is said to have recruited more than 6,000 prisoners of war in Ukraine, promising amnesty to them and a monthly salary of between $1,500 and $3,000 a month. There is no clear salary structure for the people Wagner recruits in CAR. In fact, the Central Africans believed to have sent to Ukraine in March were is said to have been trapped and starved to death after being abandoned by Wagner in the Donbas region, as previously reported by The Daily Beast.
When Ali and Hassan joined hundreds of rebels from the UPC that surrendered to government forces last December, they were told they would work closely with the CAR army and Wagner mercenaries to fight the rebels. other troops and will be paid close to $1,000 per month, according to both. man. It was a lucrative enough incentive to get the rebels to switch sides.
But the money, the two men said, was not being paid regularly and some black Russians stopped being paid altogether after a few months. Despite failing to meet its financial obligations, they said, Wagner continued to recruit local fighters but only focused on those in prison.
“Since July, they [the rebels initially arrested and held for very serious crimes] who have been and are participating,” Hassan said. “There are rumors that some of them will be sent to Ukraine to fight.”
Neither the CAR government nor Prigozhin responded to emails sent to them by The Daily Beast requesting comment on allegations that Wagner recruited criminals from cells. Emails sent to a CAR government spokesman and to Concord Management, a company majority owned by Prigozhin, went unanswered.
Ali and Hassan left the Black Russians in early November after they stopped receiving money from Wagner. Dozens of their colleagues, especially those recruited from the prison, are said to have started disappearing in recent months. Both believe their missing former colleagues – some 50 – are fighting for Russia in Ukraine, but are convinced they have been abandoned.
“Surname [Wagner] just taking people away without notifying their families,” Ali said. “If things go badly, no one will know what happened to them.”