The French wanted to get Russians and PMC Wagner out of Central African Republic

Pravda.Ru special correspondent Daria Aslamova met with the head of the Russian House in the Central African Republic, Dmitry Syty. They spoke about an assassination attempt on his life in the CAR, about security in the Central African Republic depending on PMC Wagner, and how former French colonies in Africa see their future with Russia.

As far as I can understand, you are an old-timer here. How long have been living in the CAR?

It's my sixth year, I arrived 6 years ago.

What brought you to this country?

I went to work here as a translator. Then I had my career growing here and then I was assigned to the initiative for peace talks with the leaders of the armed groups.

Did you help organize peace talks?

Yes, as an organizer. I traveled with them and talked to Valery Zakharov, who was here, the presidential security aide. There were 14 armed groups. They were looking for a mediator, they were constantly trying to negotiate with everyone. They managed to succeed in the talks with us as mediators. I was a peace negotiator at a time when the civil war was in full swing in the country. There were a lot of conflicts happening. At that time, the government had control of only about 10% of the territory.

Did the rebels hold the rest of the territory?

Yes, they were armed groups that divided the whole country among themselves, and each of those groups would rule their own way.

What year was it when you started participating in the negotiations?

It was early 2018.

Why did they believe you? Why did the bandits believe you?

Apparently, we chose the right words when we were talking to them. All the tools were in place. We met all the demands that the groups had, we only had to build a dialogue. For some reason, no local could make that happen.

You received death threats last year, and they sent you a package with explosives. Why such a turn of events?

Negotiations with gangs ended in 2019 with the signing of Khartoum peace agreement that lasted for two years. During tha time, the state managed to restore control over the entire territory. In 2020, external forces funded local criminal groups again and attracted mercenaries from Chad, from Sudan. They decided to stage a military coup here with the support of external forces. The coup failed, though. The coup in December 2020 came as a violation of all the agreements. President Touadéra turned to the Russia, to Yevgeny Prigozhin, for help. Airplanes with professionally trained soldiers started arriving. The fighters started taking part in hostilities here to stabilize the situation. Criminal gangs were already on their way to Bangui. A few months later they regained control over most of the territories. And not only that, they managed to move even further into provinces and establish control over the territories that were not previously controlled.Now the president controls 95% of the country.

What happened to you last year? Did you receive death threats?

Yes, I started receiving threats. My ex-wife's family also started receiving threats in France. In the end, they sent me a package that blew up in my hands in December last year.

What did they want you to do?

They wanted PMC Wagner out of the country, they wanted the Russians to leave.

Your son lives in France. Did they threaten your son?

Yes, they did. Then when the parcel arrived I took it to the "Russian House" and it blew up there as I was opening it.  I lost three fingers.

Didn't you want to leave after the attack? Didn't you think that it was too dangerous for you to say here?

That was another challenge that I had to take. I could not betray my cause.

What is your cause — Russians in Africa?

Yes. Russia in Africa.

If we start giving up, then, well, look at what's happening in Niger, in Burkina Faso, Gabon. Mali. Former French spheres of influence — they all fall like dominoes. And if we backpedal now, then everything that has been done will fall apart the same way. This is our chance. We are now looking for new friends, new partners, new markets. And Africa is an option for Russia.

Will we be able to handle Africa at the time when Russia is holding the special operation in Ukraine? Do you think we can make it?

What does "handle" mean at all? It does not require any extra efforts or extra resources. Russia has already been present in Africa…Russia's coming back, we are coming back. And the resources that the Soviet Union spent here were a lot greater. We need to optimise. African countries are different today. They are more developed, they do not require such an investment, they simply demand equal relations. Russia has the competencies that African countries need. We do not come here to take resources — we come to build partnerships for the joint development of projects. They respect Russia here very much. Russia is not a traditional guest in Africa. Russia was here during the times of Emperor Bokassa, which was a very long time ago.

Russia left here in 1979, when there was another coup. One of the first decrees that President Dako signed — he came to power after Bokassa was toppled — was a decree to terminate all diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. The entire Soviet mission that was present here was evacuated. There were teachers, doctors, military advisers, engineers, geologists.

Now that Russia is coming back to Africa, what do the African countries need? What do they ask for?

They ask for security. Security means fighters. PMC Wagner is not enough for everyone. We need to show it to them that they can do it themselves. They need to be shown that they can be independent.

Can you tell us about your "Russian House"? You founded it.

I started it in early 2021, so it's been just two years. Locals come here, they are interested — there are not so many places here where you can spend time to entertain yourself, to have fun, to learn something new, learn a new language. We have the only movie theatre here in the Russian House as well. They learn the language here, because the Africans are interested in Russia, and they want to understand Russia more, they can study the Russian language here and continue cooperation with Russia afterwards. 

As for the parcel story, it sounds like an international detective story. Where did it come from?

It came from Togo via DHL. It went through three airports. Lome airport in Togo, then, Abuja in Nigeria, then it passed through Douala in Cameroon and arrived in Bangui. It is four countries then. There is a suspect, he most likely used fake documents. A white man sent the parcel, he provided documents when sending, he had Spanish citizenship. But during the investigation, it turned out that such a person neither entered nor left the territory of Togo, that is, most likely, his documents were fake.

But how did the parcel reach you then? They scan packages for explosives and other dangerous substances at every post terminal, let alone international mail.

These are questions to airport security services, because they scan all packages and keep those scanning records. The scan of that particular parcel clearly showed a bomb. There's also the African factor involved as airport employees could let things slide. There are thousands of parcels, I'm not sure that they scan each parcel carefully. I think it was well organized. Most likely, there was a French African network involved in cooperation with French or American special services.

Do you think thaT Russia has good prospects in all of Africa or do we need to opt for the French-Speaking part of it, the former French colonies?

The former French colonies are watching the situation in the CAR very closely. The Central African Republic is a pilot project of cooperation between Russia and an African country and it has shown very good results. This is a successful project. Security has been restored and cooperation has been established. Other countries want this too. They want to escape from the old system when a neo-colonial structure holds the reins of power. They want to gain independence and sovereignty. This is what this model of relations with Russia provides.

The Central African Republic appears to be the country that other African states look up to. Everyone wants security and peace. Has Russia succeeded in Africa?

Russia has shown a successful example, and other francophone countries are closely watching this and want the same. Challenges will never end. One should not be waiting for a silver platter. All this is hard work, and we keep on working.

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Author`s name Daria Aslamova
Editor Dmitry Sudakov