What is known about the murder of Russian journalists in the center of Africa

What brought Russian journalists to the Central African Republic, who could stand behind their murder and what are the interests of Moscow in this country.
Origin source
On Tuesday, July 31, in the Central African Republic (CAR), near the city of Sibu, were found the bodies of three Russian journalists - military correspondent Orkhan Dzhemal, cameraman Kirill Radchenko and director Alexander Rastorguev. Nearby there was a riddled car.

Ten people were involved in the attack on Russians, all of them were in turbans and spoke Arabic, the representative of Sibu City Administration Marcelin Yoyo told the Associated Press. According to him, journalists died on the spot. Only their driver remained alive, with the words of which he managed to find out the details of the attack.

The identity of the alleged assassins of Russians is unknown, writes the publication Sud Ouest, citing a source in the law enforcement agencies of the CAR. On Wednesday, UN policemen should travel from the capital of the Central African Republic of Bangui to Sibi to help local law enforcement agencies investigate the murders of Russians.

As RBC reported to the Investigative Management Center, with which the dead journalists collaborated, they went to the CAR to film a documentary about the activities of Russian private military companies (PMCs) there. Jemal, Radchenko and Rastorguev were to spend a little over two weeks in the CAR and return on August 15. As RBC was told by Andrei Konyakhin and Anastasia Gorshkova from the Investigation Management Center, Jemal, Radchenko and Rastorguev flew from Moroccan Casablanca to the capital of the CAR, Bangui on Saturday, July 28. The next day they went to the Berengo estate, where the grave of one of the most odious African dictators, the emperor of the CAR, Jean-Bedele Bocassa, is open (to visit the tourists, according to the French newspaper Le Monde, there is a base of Russians guarding the president of the CAR ). In the estate of Dzhemal, Radchenko and Rastorguev were not allowed, explaining that in order to enter its territory, it is necessary to have accreditation from the Ministry of Defense of the country. When the journalists returned from the estate to the hotel, they were detained by the police for allegedly using the shooting equipment illegally, but they paid off. On the night of Monday, they talked on the phone to colleagues from Moscow - this was the last time they got in touch.

The group had at least two cameras, action cameras, at least six hard drives, a laptop, microphones and dictaphones, and about $ 8,500 in cash, Konyakhin said. On Monday, the Russians had to go to the city of Bambari, which is 400 km from the capital - where they agreed to meet with a man named Martin, a consultant from the UN mission in the CAR. The name of Martin is neither Konyakhin nor Gorshkova is unknown. Martin was recommended to them by several European journalists working in the CAR. It was Martin who helped Russian journalists find a driver. At the time of writing, Martin did not answer RBC's messages.

According to Gorshkova, after it became known about the death of journalists, Martin does not respond to calls and messages. To get to Bambari, journalists had to get to Sibiu and from there to turn east, but instead they somehow drove along the road to the north - in the direction of the city of Kaga-Bandoro, which 23 km from Sibi and were killed.

Photos of the bodies of the dead Konyakhin and Gorshkov received the day before: thanks to this, the relatives of the dead could identify them. In the photographs, which the correspondent of RBC acquainted, there are traces of gunshot wounds. However, they do not have a single photo of the car found on the site of the murder. The bodies of Jemal, Radchenko and Rastorguev will be delivered to Moscow on August 3-4.

Versions of murder

Upon the murder of journalists, the Investigative Committee of Russia and the law enforcement agencies of the Central African Republic initiated criminal proceedings. While there are three versions of what happened.

A source in the Central Intelligence Agency told Interfax that journalists could be killed as a result of a robbery. At the same time, it is not known whether the attacking equipment or money was taken or not. The UN mission in this country (MINUSCA), whose representatives found the bodies of journalists, did not answer RBC's question about the things killed. As the representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova told RBC, the driver of the dead journalists gave testimony to the law enforcement agencies of the CAR. "I can say that the driver quite clearly stated the essence of what happened, describing it as a bandit attack," she said.

Another version is that journalists were killed by members of one of the armed formations. According to the Central African edition of the CNC, on the morning of Monday, July 30, residents of the city of Damara, halfway from Bangui to Sibu, demanded the departure of Russian soldiers from the surrounding territories, which, according to CNC, killed a young local resident. To reduce the intensity of protests, the Minister of National Security of the country arrived in Damaru, the newspaper asserts. CNC admits that it was the locals who could stand behind the attack on Russian journalists.

According to TASS, referring to the radio of the CAR, the fighters of the Muslim group "Selek", fighting against the authorities of the country, could have been involved in the murder of reporters. In the past few months, the "Seleki" militants have "toughened their position" and started actively arming, in particular, by purchasing weapons in the Sudan, according to a report by UN experts that was published on July 31.

According to Zakharova, local law enforcers informed Russian journalists that to go north from Sibu is dangerous for life. "We received information from the law enforcement agencies of the CAR that journalists were warned that further advancement could be fraught with danger and attacks, as the zone of responsibility of the official law enforcement agencies of the CAR ends there," Zakharova emphasizes.

Sources of the site Palmarescentrafrique reported that journalists were first abducted, interrogated, and then killed. The abductors, according to the publication, were insurgents from the detachment of Nuraddin Adam, one of the leaders of the "Seleka".

The safety of journalists

According to Zakharova, journalists arrived in the CAR on tourist visas and did not notify the Russian embassy and local authorities about their arrival. This decision in the Investigative Management Center was explained by the interests of the investigation, and the absence of protection in the trip over the country covered by the conflict - Martin's recommendations. He said that he had agreed on all at checkpoints.

"A lot of counselors about security. The dead journalists were partners in our project. People with great experience who knew how and what to do. It would be ridiculous for me to impose something on Jemal. We will continue the investigation. And there will be a risk, and there will be bold people. Such people are changing the world, "wrote the editor of the Center for Investigation Management, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, on Twitter.

Russian media, as a rule, do not have regulations to protect their employees in dangerous situations, while large Western media have appropriate norms. For example, all BBC journalists undergo special training on working in extreme conditions and providing medical assistance. When working in hot spots, they use a mobile application with an alarm button. Before leaving for a business trip, journalists are required to provide colleagues with detailed information on the route and contacts of hotels, drivers and other details of the trip. They are also provided with real or remote support for the so-called High risk team, whose employees make decisions about the advisability of communicating with certain people and behavior in situations dangerous to journalists.

The head of the Presidential Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights, Mikhail Fedotov, called on the State Duma to pass a law on the work of the media in hot spots, thereby honoring the memory of Russian journalists who died in the Central African Republic.

A European journalist who worked in the CAR for about a year and who asked not to be named for security reasons, told RBC that the last case of the death of a European correspondent in the republic took place in 2014, when the French freelancer Camilla Lepage was killed. According to the interlocutor of RBC, Dzhemal, Radchenko and Rastorguev left Sibu at about 17:45 local time. Evening time is considered dangerous for movement around the country, he says. In the opinion of the interlocutor of RBC, the rebels from the "Seleka" are able to assess the political consequences of the killing of foreign journalists, so it is unlikely that they would take such a step. The more likely reason for the attack on journalists, he said, is the ambiguous attitude of local residents to the support of the government army provided by Russian instructors.

The Central African Republic is one of the poorest countries in Africa and the world. According to the World Bank, the CAR ranks fifth in the world rankings on GDP per capita: in 2017 it was $ 418.4, which is almost four times lower than the average per capita GDP for countries in tropical Africa ($ 1553.8 ). The CAR is also one of the last places in terms of life expectancy. In 2016, he was 52 years old. The population of the country is 4.7 million people, more than 75% of whom live below the poverty line.

The current phase of the civil armed conflict in the country began in 2013, when the detachments of the "Seleks" overthrew President Francois Bozize, the BBC said. After that, the rebel leader Michel Jotodia announced the termination of the Constitution in the country. This caused a sharp negative reaction from the international community. In September 2014 in the CAR by the decision of the UN Security Council was introduced MINUSCA. The priority task of the mission, as reported on its website, was the protection of civilians. To date, the number of the mission is more than 14 thousand people, of which just over 10 thousand - soldiers, and about 2 thousand - the police.

In 2015, the warring parties held a forum on reconciliation, a year later presidential elections took place, victory was won by Fosten-Arkange Tuader, who promised to ensure security in the country. The situation in the CAR is still "fragile", in some areas there are conflicts, whose victims are sometimes UN peacekeepers, RBC press secretary MINUSCA Vladimir Monteiro said.

In the Central African Republic are deposits of diamonds, including black diamonds, which are mined in addition to the CARs only in Brazil, as well as gold and uranium. The CAR takes the tenth place in the world for diamond mining and the fifth place in gold reserves. Most of the precious metals are mined by local miners. The main trading partner of the CAR is France.

The CAR was a supplier of diamonds to the USSR, and then to Russia. In 2013, the Kimberley Process (a scheme approved by the United Nations in 2003 to prevent the supply of so-called blood diamonds illegally obtained to finance the purchase of weapons for insurgent groups in West Africa and its allies fighting against legitimate governments) imposed a ban on the export of diamonds from the CAR. In 2016, the ban was partially lifted, and the CAR was able to supply diamonds from five zones not affected by the conflict. There is no information on the import of diamonds from the CARs in the database of the Federal Customs Service.

What Russia is doing in the CARs

In December 2017, the UN Security Council weakened the moratorium it introduced in 2013 to supply arms to the CARs, allowing Russian arms supplies there. According to AFP, between the end of January and early February, nine aircraft with weapons and ammunition from Russia arrived in the African country. Since January 2018, a Russian contingent has been introduced into the country, the representatives of which train two battalions of local soldiers, each of them numbered 1,5 thousand people, said AFP. About 40 more Russians provide protection for the President of the Tuder and advise him on security issues, explains Ouest France.

While rendering assistance to the CAR, Moscow aims to "maintain security and law and order throughout its territory," which ultimately should lead to "normalization of the situation and a reliable settlement of the protracted internal armed conflict," said in January this year the Deputy Director of the Information and Press Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry Artem Kozhin. At the same time, the diplomat did not deny that Russia is interested in participating in projects "aimed at exploring the opportunities for mutually beneficial development of the reserves of the Central Asian natural resources."

Contacts of Russian and Central Asian officials intensified in 2017. On October 9 last year, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held a meeting in Sochi with President Faustin-Arkandj Tuader, who arrived on a private visit. The parties agreed to increase interaction in the political, trade-economic and humanitarian fields and recognized the mutual benefit of partnership in developing reserves of mineral raw materials, supplies to the CARs of Russian industrial equipment, agricultural machinery and energy, the Foreign Ministry noted.

In March of this year, Kozhin reported that in 2018, the search for mining concessions began. However, the representative of the Ministry of Energy told RBC that Russia does not cooperate with the CAR in the field of energy. According to the Ministry of Natural Resources, there is also no interaction with the CAR in the sphere of ecology and nature management, the agency representative added.

A group of experts from the Crimean Institute of Mineral Resources of Africa, Asia and America visited the Central African Republic to "get acquainted with the conditions of work and preliminary assessment of licensed areas," the website of the institute says. As a result of this trip, "priority areas" were selected for prospecting for gold and diamonds, and documents were prepared to obtain licenses for prospecting within the prospective plots. The dates of the trip in the Institute's message are not specified.

Director of the Institute of Mineral Resources of Africa, Asia and America Vladimir Shirkunov told RBC that the work in the CAR was conducted three years ago, the customer was a Lebanese company, which subsequently refused to continue working there because of the armed conflict.

In May, President Tuader came to the St. Petersburg Economic Forum to negotiate with Vladimir Putin. "We are pleased to consider various options for intensifying our relations, especially in the economic and humanitarian fields, including the training of personnel," the Russian leader said at the meeting. The leader of the CAR spoke about the Russian convoy, who deployed mobile hospitals in the country, as well as high expectations of economic cooperation with Moscow.

What is known about private military companies in the CARs

The presence of the Russian PMC in the CAR in April 2018 was reported by the newspaper Le Monde. According to the publication, a significant proportion of Russians who arrived in the country were contracted by two private military organizations - Sewa Security and Lobaye Ltd.

Another private organization - the so-called Wagner PMC - was training the soldiers of the CAR army, reported in June 2018 The Bell, citing the source. The interlocutor in one of the Russian PMC told RBC that in the CAR there are indeed employees of this organization.

According to investigators from Conflict Intelligence Team, Russian PMCs in the CARs could cooperate not only with local authorities, but also with opposing insurgents. It was this aspect of the activities of private organizations that the dead reporters could study, CIT suggests.