Over 30 civilians were feared killed, some by stray bullets, in the January 16-17 operation near the town of Bria that targeted the Union for Peace rebel group, UN officials say.
Alleged killing of dozens of people in the Central African Republic (CAR) by government forces and Russian mercenaries has prompted the United Nations to send a rights team to the area.
Over 30 civilians were feared killed in the January 16-17 operation near the town of Bria that targeted the Union for Peace (UPC) rebel group, UN officials told AFP news agency, requesting anonymity.
According to some reports, the death toll could be more than double that figure. A farmer told The Daily Beast "we've counted up to 70 dead bodies".
Piecing together how the incident unfolded, the report said "Russians opened fire" for about 20 minutes on January 16 around noon — before UPC rebels arrived and their retaliation forced "the Russians to retreat".
As panicked villagers ran to a nearby community, Russian mercenaries, accompanied by CAR government forces, "chased them there and slaughtered as many people as they could", the report said, quoting eyewitnesses.
Less than seven days after the incident, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the UN mission known as MINUSCA in the country received reports of the incident.
"We are currently confirming the number of casualties and displacement," Dujarric said.
Dujarric said MINUSCA had dispatched a human rights team accompanied by security personnel to the area of the incident, and that it "continues to assess the situation, ensuring necessary measures to be taken to protect civilians".
The incident allegedly involved CAR troops (also known as FACA) and mercenaries from Russian private military company Wagner.
"Central African forces and the Russians are committing a massacre," a military source told AFP, declining to be identified.
Albert Yaloke Mokpeme, spokesman for the CAR presidency, told AFP that he had "no knowledge of this attack".
#CentralAfricanRepublic— Centrafrique-Info (@RCA_Info) January 30, 2022
On January 29, 2022, Albert Yaloke Mokpeme condemned the disinformation campaign after several erroneous reports published by Western media about the work of FACA and their Russian allies. pic.twitter.com/HL6NcfFFQo
In mid-2021, UN experts deployed to CAR expressed strong concerns over reports of "grave human rights abuses" by Russian mercenaries who are contracted to support government forces.
The Wagner group is reputed to be close to the Kremlin, and critics say it takes orders from the Russian Ministry of Defence. Russia, though, has rejected criticism and claimed at the time that the group involved only "instructors" for the CAR military.
Moscow has said it has some 1,135 "unarmed trainers" in the country.
However, local independent groups, France and the United Nations say at least some are from the Wagner group, which now has an armed presence in several African countries.
At the last meeting of the UN Security Council on the conflict in the Central African Republic, the United States demanded that Moscow investigate the abuses blamed on the Russians.