THE Central African Republic has opened an investigation after four soldiers from the French Foreign Legion operating under a UN mandate were arrested in Bangui on Monday, accused of planning to ‘assassinate’ the head of state.
Tuesday’s announcement came on the same day that France and the United States accused mercenaries working for the Russian private security company Wagner of having ‘executed and massacred’ dozens of civilians.
US and French ambassadors to the United Nations voiced their grievances at the UN Security Council, alleging that the Wagner group was conducting a ‘systematic campaign of terror’ in the Central African Republic where they are fighting the rebel forces alongside the regular army.
The four Legionnaires arrested on Monday at Bangui airport were reportedly heavily armed and in army fatigues.
According to the Bangui public prosecutor, the accused are believed to be either French, Italian, Romanian or Bulgarian nationals, who were allegedly travelling in an unmarked vehicle without a UN logo.
The French army and United Nations maintain the men were escorting French General Stephane Marchenoir, chief of staff of the UN peacekeeping force in Central African Republic to the airport, where he was taking a plane to Paris.
However, the four were immediately accused on several private accounts on social networks – many with photos of their equipment – of having wanted to ‘assassinate’ the Central African President Faustin Archange Touadéra.
Touadéra’s convoy was reportedly due to pass through the same area at the same time.
Paris and the have UN forcefully denied the allegations, denouncing the accusations as ‘disinformation’ and ‘gross manipulation.’
Proxy war of words
The incident comes at a time when relations between France and its former colony are increasingly tense, exacerbated by a bitter war of influence between Paris and Moscow in the country, which has been in civil conflict since 2013.
France accuses the Central African Republic of being ‘complicit’ in an anti-French campaign orchestrated by Moscow, notably through trolling on social networks and some media outlets.
Moscow blames Paris for accusing Wagner’s paramilitaries of having seized power and resources in the country.
David Coffey with RFI