NEW YORK — The United Nations under-secretary-general for peace operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix has accused Russian military personnel of allegedly committing widespread human rights violations in the troubled Central African Republic.

“We are very concerned by the number of these allegations and the fact that they’re still widespread perpetrated, or they are alleged by a great diversity of actors, armed groups,” Lacroix said at a press conference on June 29.

“I believe they’re still responsible for for for the biggest number of these alleged violations of human rights, but also the national armed forces and their bilateral partners.”

Lacroix’s comment came in response to a question regarding the United Nations Panel of Experts report that claims Russian military instructors, along with the Central African Republic military forces, are responsible for committing human rights abuses, including indiscriminate killings of civilians.

The report also alleges that Russian instructors and Central African Republic forces were involved in looting houses and humanitarian organizations and targeting a mosque.

Earlier on June 29, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov strongly rejected the allegations in the report.

“This is another lie,” Peskov told reporters during a press conference.

The Central African Republic President Faustin-Archange Touadéra has emphasized that the United Nations Security Council had authorized Russian instructors in the country.

There are more than 500 Russian instructors currently working in the country, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry.

The mineral-rich Central Africa Republic has endured prolonged conflict, the latest beginning in 2013 with the overthrow of longtime President Francois Bozie by the predominantly Muslim Seleka rebels.

In response, Christian militias emerged, carrying out mass atrocities against Muslims in an unending vicious cycle of violence.

A peace deal signed in February 2019 between the rebels and Touadéra’s, who was first elected in 2016, failed to quell widespread violence.

In December 2020, Touadéra won a second term in office, but after the constitutional court barred Bozize from running, thus sparking more violence.

Western powers have linked the Russian deployment to the Wagner Group, a private security company owned by Yevgeny Victorich Prigozhin, a close aide of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Nicknamed “Putin’s Chef” for serving the Russian president gourmets in his restaurants, Prighozhin was indicted in the United States in 2018 on meddling charges in the 2016 presidential election.

In March 2021, the United Nations Working Group on mercenaries expressed alarm over the interconnectedness of a private military known as Sewa Security Services, Russian-owned Lobaye Invest SARLU, Wagner Group, and the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic.

“This blurring of the lines between civil, military, and peacekeeping operations during the hostilities creates confusion about the legitimate targets and increases the risks for widespread human rights and humanitarian law abuses,” said the experts.

They reported mass summary executions, arbitrary detentions, torture during interrogations, forced disappearances, forced displacement of the civilian population, indiscriminate targeting of civilian facilities, violations of the right to health, and increasing attacks on humanitarian actors.

“Unacceptably, there seem to be no investigations and no accountability for these abuses,” the experts said.

(With inputs from ANI)

(Edited by Amrita Das and Kipchumba Some)

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