EBAM, Cameroon—It was the “most barbaric” act of violence Nas Ali said he has witnessed since the Central African Republic (CAR) welcomed Russian mercenaries from the infamous Wagner Groupwhich some have called Vladimir Putin’s “private army,” about four years ago.
While having a conversation with a female friend under a mango tree about 50 meters away from his home, and having a good view of his compound from where they both stood in the western CAR village of Bèzèrè, the 32-year-old said he watched from afar as about a dozen Russian paramilitarieswho appeared from nowhere, dragged the wives of two of his neighbors out of the compound, stabbed them in their abdomen and then disemboweled the two women.
“The women were screaming and begging for mercy,” Ali, who now lives as a refugee in Cameroon, told The Daily Beast. “The white soldiers [as many in CAR refer to Wagner mercenaries as] didn’t listen. They killed the women and removed their stomach and intestines.”
The incident, according to Ali and another witness, occurred on Dec. 6 last year. They said at least six other women in Bèzèrè were killed in the same manner across the village.
“As I was leaving the village, I saw the body of a woman who was pregnant,” Malik Tete, a 29-year-old bricklayer who fled Bèzèrè to Cameroon after the incident, told The Daily Beast. “They had cut her open, removed her baby and her intestines and left them on top of her dead body.”
Following the violence in Bèzèrè, thousands of people, according to Ali and Tete, fled the village to Bocaranga, about 27 kilometers southeast of Bèzèrè. Many others, including the witnesses, sought refuge in settlements for refugees in the eastern part of Cameroon.
“We were scared that these white soldiers would return and kill all of us, so we had to leave the village,” said Ali, who fled to Ngaoundere town in the central Adamawa region of Cameroon. “If we didn’t run away, we probably would have been dead by now.”
It wasn’t only in Bèzèrè that women were said to have been slaughtered by the Russians last December. In the nearby Létélé community, locals told The Daily Beast that they found the disemboweled bodies of four women lying dead in different locations on the day Russian mercenaries stormed the village in search of rebels from the Return, Reclamation, Rehabilitation (3R) group.
“I saw with my eyes when a white soldier stabbed a woman with a knife on her belly,” Bissafi, a 30-year-old farmer now living in CAR’s capital city of Bangui, told The Daily Beast. “They said she was being punished for marrying a man working for a rebel group.”
Given the manner in which the victims were allegedly killed, the Russians “clearly wanted to torture the women to death,” said Sylvestre, who—like other witnesses residing in CAR—The Daily Beast is choosing to identify by his first name to protect him from possible reward.
Those who recognized some of the alleged victims in both Bèzèrè and Létélé said they were women residing in areas in the two villages where rebels of the 3R faction, one of CAR’s most powerful armed groups—which presents itself as a self-defense militia—have been active.
“They [Russian mercenaries] believe all the men in the areas where 3R rebels are present are part of the rebel group,” Souleyman, a local vigilante in Létélé, told The Daily Beast. “Each time they meet people from these areas, they accuse them of supporting the rebels and even physically attack them.”
Some of the victims, according to Souleyman, who has been in touch with their families as well as persons who witnessed the killings, are wives of young men accused of being “too friendly” with 3R militants.
Made up of mostly Muslim cattle herders, the 3R group was originally formed in 2015 to protect the minority Puehl population in northwestern CAR, where conflicts with farmers are common. In December 2020, the group joined the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC), an alliance of CAR’s armed groups that began an offensive just before the country’s presidential election to stop the re-election of President Faustin Archange Touadéra and overthrow his government. The rebels constantly target CAR forces and allied Russian paramilitaries who, in response, have been conducting a counter-offensive against the militants. But, as a number of locals have alleged, the Russians may now be taking war to civilians who live in the exact communities where these rebels operate.
“It is sad that they [Russian mercenaries] are now targeting our women,” Djibril, a Bèzèrè-born artisanal miner based in the southwestern city of Berbérati, told The Daily Beast. “I know two people whose wives were brutally killed in December by these [Russian] soldiers.”
Neither the CAR government nor Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close friend of President Vladimir Putin who reportedly runs the Wagner Group, responded to The Daily Beast’s request for comments on the alleged disemboweling of women in Bèzèrè and Létélé. Emails sent to the spokesperson of CAR’s Ministry of Communication and Media and to Concord Management, a company majority-owned by Prigozhin, went unanswered.
“I have no words to describe what these [Russian] soldiers have done.”
A local official in Ouham Prefecture, which covers Bèzèrè and Létélé, told The Daily Beast the prefecture’s government was aware of the alleged incidents in the two areas and had informed authorities in Bangui about them.
“No one [in Bangui] has even condemned what was done to the women in the communities involved,” said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity as he wasn’t authorized to speak on the subject. “This is so unfortunate.”
There have been reports of Russian-linked forces targeting women in CAR before now. In May, The Daily Beast reported how Wagner mercenaries allegedly stormed a hospital in the capital Bangui the previous month and attacked mothers recovering from childbirth, as well as medical personnel looking after them, on multiple occasions. One of the victims, according to a local independent news outlet which spoke to an eyewitness, was allegedly sexually assaulted for hours by the mercenaries.
Sources who spoke to The Daily Beast about the alleged incidents said they were appalled that the victims may not even be related to those whose crimes they were being punished for.
“Watching helpless women beg for their lives and seeing them slaughtered like animals is the worst thing a man can do to a fellow human being,” said Ali. “I have no words to describe what these [Russian] soldiers have done.”