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C.Africa hit by French-Russian 'proxy war', says Clooney's NGO

1 min 45Approximate reading time

"French and Russian networks" are working to influence elections in the war-torn Central African Republic where they are waging "a proxy war" by exploiting armed groups, claims The Sentry, an NGO co-founded by Hollywood star George Clooney.

Presidential and parliamentary elections in the country -- one of the world's most violent, where militia groups control two-thirds of the territory -- are set for December 27.

The country is diamond- and gold-rich but crippled by poverty, conflict and sectarian violence.

President Faustin-Archange Touadera is running for a second term against his main rival Francois Bozize, a former president who was toppled in 2013.

"The conflict in CAR is neither a civil war, nor a war based on ideology, religion, or ethnicity. Rather, it is a proxy war driving the country further into violence and chaos," says The Sentry, an organisation that specialises in investigating war crimes and corruption in Africa.

"French and Russian networks are working in the shadow of Central African and regional actors to influence the electoral process and advance their respective economic and geostrategic interests in CAR and Central Africa as a whole," it said in a report published Monday.

This enables war "profiteers to make a fortune out of misery."

- Diplomatic and financial offensive -

Based on interviews and on-the-ground investigations, The Sentry points the finger at the Wagner Group, a private paramilitary Russian company linked to businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin who has close ties to President Vladimir Putin.

According to the NGO, Touadera turned to Russia after being elected in 2016 and the Wagner Group "has been tasked with implementing the Kremlin's foreign policy in CAR."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he would not comment, "because it is unlikely that this organisation (The Sentry) can be considered as one of those with real expertise."

Russia has been leading a vast diplomatic and financial offensive in the former French colony since 2018 in return for major concessions to Russian companies for the exploitation of minerals, particularly gold and diamonds.

The NGO claims the Wagner Group supports armed groups financially and militarily to ensure people vote for Touadera.

Meanwhile, "in order to counter efforts by Touadera and his Russian ally to maintain a grip on power, some French networks have activated their regional and local networks, including armed groups, to prevent Touadera's reelection and return pro-French leaders to the helm of the state," The Sentry says.

"As with Russia's approach, France's interference has favored its own geostrategic and economic interests in an attempt to bring the former French colony back under its sway. This battle for influence comes at a heavy human cost."

Asked for comment, the Central African government had still not answered on Tuesday evening, and nor had France's foreign ministry.

Actor and activist Clooney, 59, co-founded The Sentry in 2015 with former US official John Prendergast.

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