A leading rebel group was behind the murder of nine Chinese gold miners in the Central African Republic last month, the justice minister said Wednesday, citing an investigation.
The killers were “indisputably elements from the CPC”, or Coalition des Patriotes pour le Changement (Coalition of Patriots for Change), said Arnaud Djoubaye Abazene, quoting the probe’s final report into the March 19 deaths in the centre of the country.
The CPC, an alliance of rebel groups formed in December 2020 to overthrow President Faustin-Archange Touadéra, has denied carrying out the killings.
The day after the attack, Prime Minister Felix Moloua the CPC, but offered no evidence.
The CPC denied any involvement in what it described as a “despicable and barbaric” act and accused Russia’s Wagner mercenary group of being behind the murders, also without providing evidence.
Russian paramilitaries were deployed to the CAR in 2018. Their numbers increased in 2020 to fend off a CPC assault on the capital.
The nine miners had been employed by China’s Gold Coast Group at the Chimbolo mine, 25km (15 miles) from Bambari, the main town in the Ouaka prefecture.
At a news conference, Abazene said the president thanked “our Russian allies who managed to neutralise certain perpetrators, seized evidence and put to flight the rest of these criminals”.
He said he had received the “report of the special commission of inquiry” into the “assassinations” on Wednesday. Journalists at the news conference were not allowed to ask questions.
The murders prompted Chinese President Xi Jinping to call on Bangui to “severely punish” the killers, according to a statement from the Chinese foreign ministry.
A ministry spokesperson had said Xi issued “important instructions, demanding an all-out effort to treat the wounded, handle the aftermath in a timely manner, severely punish perpetrators in accordance with the law, and ensure the safety of Chinese citizens”.
Two people were seriously wounded, added the statement, which also warned Chinese citizens not to travel outside Bangui and in case of emergency, to contact the embassy to seek consular protection.
The CAR, one of the world’s poorest countries, has been in the throes of civil conflict since 2013.
Militias hold large tracts of territory and often clash over access to minerals and other resources.
Russian and Chinese companies dominate mining for gold and diamonds in the Bambari region.