AFRICA/CENTRAL AFRICA - The new cold war passes through mercenaries

Saturday, 16 March 2024 mercenaries  

Bangui (Agenzia Fides) - Is the Central African Republic a "Paradise of mercenaries"? The country has long been the scene of the intervention of various private military companies (PMCs), at least since March 2003, when François Bozizé took power in a coup supported by France against President Ange-Félix Patassé. Paris, which had not deployed troops in the country since 1998, sent General Jean-Pierre Pérez, an officer of the Foreign Legion, as a military advisor to the new strongman. General Pérez knows the country well, as he commanded the Eléments Français d'Assistance Opérationnelle (EFAO), a contingent of 1,200 men stationed in Central Africa from 1981 to 1998.
In 2012, the Seleka rebel coalition threatened Bozizé's power. Abandoned by his Chadian ally, who withdrew the troops protecting him, Bozizé turned to the help of Pérez, who had meanwhile retired from active service and had become president of the private security company EHC, registered in Delaware, a well-known tax haven in the United States. To support Pérez, the EHC appointed another French soldier on leave, Francis Fauchart, former commando of the French Navy and former head of the presidential guard of Omar Bongo, then President of Gabon.
In a statement, the French company declared that with "the arrival of General (2S) Jean-Pierre PEREZ (former military advisor of President François BOZIZE) to the presidency of the group, EHC intends to position itself decisively in the niches of operational and strategic assistance to state armies. Indeed, noting that more and more States, for various reasons, have difficulties in solving their defense and internal security problems, the EHC Group proposes to provide them with various types of operational assistance services. These services include:
- the establishment of “security defense” advisors for senior military authorities and heads of military combat units
- tactical and technical retraining of units before their operational intervention
- establishing experts to provide strategic support to combat troops;
- assistance and advice on outsourcing programs for certain defense and internal security functions".
When Seleka took power, the new President Michel Djotodia turned to the son of former French President François Mitterrand, Jean-Christophe, who in turn turned to Jérôme Gomboc (former French paratrooper), director of the private security company Roussel G -Sécurité, also registered in Delaware. Following pressure from Paris, Djotodia was forced to resign and the new President, Catherine Samba-Panza, turned to the company Gallice, registered in Ireland, for her security. Gallice was founded by three former members of the "action service" of the General Directorate of External Security (DGSE), the foreign intelligence service in Paris, and Frédéric Gallois, former commander of the Special Department of Anti-Terrorist Intervention (GIGN) of the French Gendarmerie.
In the 2016 elections, a new President, Faustin-Archange Touadéra, was elected, who maintained his contract with Gallice. Meanwhile, the French-led Sangaris mission, which together with a Chad-led African stabilization force (MISCA) was supposed to help authorities in Bangui regain control of the territory in the hands of various armed groups. Both French and Chadian soldiers were accused of violence against the civilian population, which caused them to lose the support of the Central African population. The new Presidency then attempted to reactivate its armed forces (FACA), but to do so it had to ask the UN Security Council to end the arms embargo decreed at the outbreak of the civil war. Paradoxically, it is at the French suggestion that Bangui went to Moscow to ask the UN Security Council to support lifting the embargo so that regular Central African soldiers could be armed. With Russian support, the embargo was lifted. Moscow also pledged to supply weapons to Central African troops. But along with the first military supplies, Wagner's mercenaries landed in Bangui. Preceded by the arrival in March 2018 of Valery Zakharov, in charge of directing and advising the presidential guard, the first Russian "contractors" arrived in July of the same year.
Since then, the Central African Republic has become an important base for Wagner, which, after the death of its founder, has been renamed the Afrikansky Korpus. Hundreds of Russian instructors are officially present in the country to train the Central African military and support the FACA. In parallel with these official activities, the Russian private military company carries out a series of economic activities, mainly the exploitation of gold mines. The Central African authorities have also expressed their intention to grant Moscow a base capable of housing 10,000 Russian soldiers who would be responsible for training and educating local soldiers.
But the Bangui government seems to want to create a counterweight to the presence of Russian mercenaries by relying on a Rwandan military contingent (see Fides, 23/1/2024) and, apparently, also on the men of the American Bancroft Global Development, whose presence was indirectly confirmed by the US ambassador in Bangui.
Bancroft, created in 1999 under the name Landmine Clearance International, has since specialized in demining, and still operates as an NGO (under the 501c3 statute, which allows it to be exempt from federal income taxes).
In July 2023, Bancroft, which is partly funded by the US State Department but claims to be independent, said it had agreed on a framework to discuss possible cooperation with the Central African government, but provided no details.
The company, which has been working in Somalia for more than a decade, stated that its main objective in the Central African Republic is to control and protect mining concessions in areas where armed groups operate, so that the benefits can be shared with the local population and the State. Bancroft counts among its executives a former French mercenary, linked to the transalpine extreme right, and Bon Dénard, the most famous of the French mercenaries. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 16/3/2024)