Three Russian journalists were ambushed and killed on July 30th in the Central African Republic (CAR). Orkhan Dzhemal, Alexander Rastorguyev, and Kirill Radchenko were reportedly attacked while driving near the village Sibut. Several news organizations have reported that they were investigating a private military company called Wagner. According to The Economist, Wagner deployed troops into the country for training purposes. Wagner has also been reported to operate in Syria, Ukraine, and Sudan. The motivation for the killings remain unclear, but the CAR government has launched an investigation into their deaths. According to The Associated Press, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the exiled Russian opposition figure who financed the journalists’ trip to the CAR, will also be investigating the attacks. The Associated Press also reported that the journalists’ colleagues speculate that the killings may be associated with their investigative work on Wagner.
The CAR remains unstable, violent, and fuelled by religious division. Reuters reported that the country is mostly controlled by militias. The United Nation’s ongoing mission currently has 13,000 peacekeepers attempting to preserve order in the CAR. According to the BBC, these peacekeepers are spread thin across the country, which is an issue because the government’s armed forces are not currently functional. The UN reports that thousands of people are thought to have been killed in the conflict and 2.5 million people require humanitarian aid. Violence has also left millions on the verge of starvation. The UN also reports that 650,000 people have been internally displaced, which includes 70,000 living in a site for internally displaced persons, as of March 2014. They estimate that over 290,000 have fled to neighbouring African countries.
According to the BBC, the UN authorized Russia to provide training and weaponry in the CAR last December. This was a major exemption to the arms embargo that had been enforced since former President Francois Bozize was overthrown in 2013. Since the UN’s decision, several sources have reported that Wagner has deployed troops in the country. The BBC also reported that Russia has signed deals with the CAR for mineral extraction. The Guardian speculates that Wagner’s proximity to the Kremlin has allowed it to operate despite private military being technically illegal in Russia. Conversely, Reuters reported that they were unable to verify such reports and that Russian authorities denied these allegations about Wagner. A UN expert panel suggested that there is a correlation between the Russian weapons supply and the ongoing arms race in the CAR, causing rebel groups to approach traffickers in Sudan for new shipments.
These speculations about Wagner and the investigations into these deaths are pertinent considering how journalist Maxim Borodin died last April. Borodin, who was also investigating Wagner, was reported to have fallen from a fifth story balcony. Meanwhile, few media organizations are currently investigating the impact of these journalists’ deaths on the CAR’s population, which remains one of the poorest populations in the world due to the ongoing conflict. Hopefully these deaths do not deter journalists from travelling to the CAR as international coverage is vital to ending the violence.
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