France denies involvement in parcel bomb injuring Russian in Central Africa

Central African Republic AP - Sergei Ilnitsky
DEC 17, 2022 LISTEN
AP - Sergei Ilnitsky

A prominent pro-Kremlin figure has claimed France was behind an alleged terror attack in the Central African Republic on Friday which left a Russian representative badly wounded. Paris described the accusation as "propaganda".

The head of the Russian House cultural centre in Bangui "received an anonymous parcel on Friday, opened it and an explosion happened," said a Russian embassy representative, quoted by the official TASS news agency.

The victim, Dmitry Sytyi, was hospitalised with "serious injuries," it added.

The Russian embassy views the incident as an assassination attempt, TASS reported.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the boss of Russia's Wagner mercenary group, claimed that Paris was involved and should be designated a state sponsor of terrorism.

"I have already requested the Russian foreign ministry to initiate the procedure to declare France a state sponsor of terrorism," Prigozhin was quoted as saying in a statement released by his company, Concord.

He called for a "thorough investigation" into "the terrorist methods of France and its Western allies – the United States and others".

France's top diplomat has denied Prigozhin's claims.

"This information is false and is a good example of Russian propaganda and the fanciful imagination that sometimes characterises it," Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna told France's AFP news agency during a visit to Morocco on Friday.

'Son's head' 

Prigozhin, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said it was unclear if Sytyi would survive.

Before losing consciousness, Prigozhin claimed Sytyi saw a note that allegedly said: "This is for you from all the French, the Russians will get out of Africa."

Central Africa has been battling civil war since 2013 and is at the heart of Russia's bid for strategic influence in Africa.

The last French troops deployed in CAR left on Thursday following a chill in relations caused by closer ties between Bangui and Moscow and the deployment of Russian forces, which some countries say includes Wagner mercenaries.

Prigozhin said Sytyi first received a parcel from Togo on November 11. It contained a picture of his son residing in France and a note saying "next time he will receive his son's head" if the Russians do not leave Africa.

Growing friction

France dispatched up to 1,600 troops to help stabilise CAR, a former colony, after a coup in 2013 unleashed a civil war along sectarian lines.

Over the last few years, friction has grown between the two nations over a mounting Russian military presence.

In 2018, Moscow sent instructors to the country, and in 2020 followed this with hundreds of paramilitaries to help President Faustin Archange Touadera defeat rebels advancing on the capital.

France, the UN and others say they are mercenaries from the Kremlin-backed Wagner group, who have been linked with atrocities and looting of resources.

Sanctioned by Washington and Brussels, Prigozhin has emerged as one of Vladimir Putin's most loyal lieutenants after Moscow sent troops to Ukraine on February 24.

In November, the European Parliament recognised Russia as a "state sponsor of terrorism", accusing its forces of carrying out atrocities during its offensive in Ukraine.

(with AFP)