Three reporters who were investigating a Russian private security firm's activities in CAR, one of the poorest and most unstable countries in the world, were killed at a roadblock.
An ambush outside the city of Sibut in the Central African Republic (CAR) left three Russian nationals dead, government authorities said on Tuesday. The victims had press cards in their possession at the time of the murder, but the Russian government did not confirm that they were actual journalists.
Ange Maxime Kazagui, a CAR government spokesman, said that authorities had not recently issued any journalist accreditation to a delegation from Russia.
Russian media reported that the three victims had been working on a film about a private Russian security company currently operating in CAR. The project was said to have had the backing of an investigative media outlet run by exiled Russian tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
According to Marcelin Yoyo, a Sibut deputy official, the three Russians left the town on Monday evening around 7 p.m. and were attacked between two villages about 23 kilometers (14 miles) away.
"Security forces in charge told them not to go because it was already dark," Yoyo recounted, adding that "they were kidnapped by about 10 men, all turbaned and speaking only Arabic."
Yoyo said the journalists were killed on the spot and that their driver was able to flee the scene and informed authorities the next morning.
The Russian Foreign Ministry expressed condolences to the families of the dead and said it was working on bringing the bodies back to Russia.
Russia's ties to CAR
Russia has taken on a more visible role in CAR since December last year, when Russia received United Nations authorization to provide the beleaguered African nation with weapons and training.
The UN exempted Russia's weapons delivery to CAR from an embargo it had imposed in 2013, in an effort to support the weakened central government and its military.
The UK, France and the US voiced concern over the move and demanded that weapons be restricted to light arms and that Russia provide traceability to prevent them from being sold on the black market.
A UN panel of experts had warned on Tuesday that Russia's weapons supply had led to an arms race in the rampantly unstable CAR, with rebels turning to traffickers in Sudan for fresh gun shipments.
In addition to the arms deal, Russia is also believed to have signed a range of agreements with President Faustin-Archange Touadera, including a deal for his own security.
CAR plunged into violence after longtime leader Francois Bozize, a Christian, was overthrown in 2013 by a mainly Muslim rebel alliance. His successor Touadera, whose government is supported by a UN force of 13,000 troops, controls little of the country beyond the capital Bangui.
The rest of CAR is held by 15 militias, many of which claim to represent Christian or Muslim communities. They frequently clash over natural resources and revenue.
jcg/aw (AFP, AP)