Belgian-Portuguese man arrested in CAR for alleged plot

A Belgian-Portuguese individual employed by a US charity has been apprehended in the Central African Republic on suspicion of conspiring with armed factions against the state, CAR authorities disclosed on Friday.

The man was taken into custody on Saturday by military personnel in Zemio, a locality on the border between CAR and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), as reported by the prosecutor in Bangui, the capital.

The CAR, among the most impoverished nations in Africa, has grappled with civil conflicts, coups, and authoritarian regimes since gaining independence from France in 1960. Instances of skirmishes persist between rebels or armed factions and the army, often aided by mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner group or its successor Africa Corps.

Preliminary investigations suggest that the individual was in communication with several armed factions operating within CAR with intentions to orchestrate a conspiracy, incite hatred, rebellion against security forces, and threaten internal security, stated prosecutor Benoit Narcisse Foukpio.

Identified as a consultant associated with an NGO called Family Health International 360 (FHI 360), the individual possessed Belgian and Portuguese passports bearing matching first names but different surnames.

FHI 360, headquartered in the United States, confirmed to AFP the disappearance of a consultant involved in designing a community development program in Zemio and affirmed efforts to secure the individual’s prompt release.

While a source in Brussels disclosed the detention of a Belgian national in CAR, Foukpio declared the initiation of a judicial inquiry against the detainee for alleged involvement in aiding subversive groups and attempted forgery.

Zemio, situated in Haut-Mbomou prefecture bordering the DRC, is a zone where Russian paramilitaries, alongside an integrated militia, confront a significant rebel faction.

Civil strife erupted in CAR in 2013 following the ousting of President Francois Bozize by a Muslim-dominated armed coalition named Seleka, prompting Bozize to mobilize mainly Christian militias, known as the anti-Balakas, to regain power.

The conflict claimed numerous civilian lives, with both factions accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the UN. Although the violence peaked in 2016 and gradually waned, clashes endure between successor groups of the militias and the government.

President Faustin Archange Touadera enlisted assistance from Russia’s Wagner mercenary group to bolster his armed forces, a move that intensified in 2020 as rebel groups advanced toward the capital.

While they have contributed to driving back armed factions from major urban centers, both the mercenaries and the armed groups face accusations of civilian violations by international bodies like the UN and NGOs.

In a related development, the United States imposed sanctions on two companies in CAR for their involvement in supporting the Wagner group’s security operations and illicit mining endeavors in the country.

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