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The Russians are training the Central African army instead of the Europeans

(B2) After long negotiations at the UN, instructors from Russia took possession of a home of former President Jean-Bedel Bokassa near Bangui, to train Central African soldiers to use Russian weapons.

A presence authorized by the UN

This sending of military equipment and Russian instructors to a country subject to an arms embargo since 2013 had caused turmoil and questions at the UN, in particular from the United States, France and the Kingdom -United. Washington, London and Paris finally accepted the exemption granted to Moscow in December 2017, asking it for reinforced storage measures for the weapons delivered. “ There have been no real inspections yet “, according to a diplomatic source.

Two battalions trained by the Russians

The stock of weapons delivered to the Central African Republic is substantial: pistols, assault rifles, machine guns and even rocket launchers. Russia also received authorization from the UN to train the Central African army in full reconstruction – two battalions, or a total of 1.300 men – in the use of these weapons.

In Berengo Palace

The immense palace of Berengo, 60 km west of Bangui, seems abandoned: but since the end of January, this building, where Jean-Bedel Bokassa, president and then emperor from 1966 to 1979, lived, now houses a camp military training site of 41 hectares, noted an AFP journalist. More than 150 Russian instructors, according to a diplomatic source, are training hundreds of soldiers of the Central African Armed Forces (FACA) in the handling of the weapons delivered.

A battalion of soldiers, some trained by Europeans

At first glance, at Berengo Palace, only a few Central African soldiers stand guard. Then a handful of Russians in military uniform appeared. One of them allows journalists to take a few steps to Bokassa's tomb, located within the palace grounds, but on one condition, repeated twice: " No photo, no video, no interview ". Around ten large tents are lined up to the right of the emperor's flower-filled tomb. They house a battalion of FACA soldiers, some of whom have already been trained by the European Union Training Mission (EUTM) in 2017.

Training the hard way

« These soldiers are in Berengo for +marking+. That is, they learn to work with the specific equipment supplied by Russia “says a military source. " The training is very hard », whispers a Central African soldier crossed at the entrance to the camp. Around the palace, Russian instructors are viewed very favorably by the local population.

Bring the country out of chaos

They " will help the country emerge from chaos, the Sangaris (the French military operation) had not finished their mission “says Roger Okoa-Penguia, the mayor of Pissa, a village near the palace. " They are nice, they buy food, it makes business worke”, rejoices Alexis, a resident of Pissa. Another, Thibault, shares the same enthusiasm, criticizing France: “ You pretend to help us, the French, you sign agreements and you do nothing while the Russians do! If you had brought back security, would we have needed the Russians? ».

(AFP Charles BOUESSEL)

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).