UN experts Wednesday urged the Central African Republic to cut ties with Russia's Wagner group, accusing the private security force of violent harassment, intimidation and sexual abuse.
Wagner personnel working closely with the CAR army and police force have harassed peacekeepers, journalists, aid workers and minorities, they said in a joint statement.
"We call on the CAR government to end all relationships with private military and security personnel, particularly the Wagner group," they said.
UN experts do not speak for the global body but are mandated to report their findings to it.
The Wagner group, with which Moscow denies any link, provides maintenance services, military equipment and training in the countries where they are deployed, usually with the status of "instructors."
But critics have frequently accused the group of rights abuses and serving Kremlin interests.
Wagner personnel have been reported in the CAR and other African countries, as well as in Syria and Libya, and Mali's junta has also contemplated a deal, according to French sources.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has called them "a company of Russian mercenaries which makes war by proxy on Russia's account", adding that "even if Russia denies it, nobody is fooled", with the CAR "the most spectacular example" of the group's actions.
'Human rights abuses'
On Tuesday, the US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said "Russian mercenaries engage in human rights abuses of civilians, extract steep costs in payments and mineral concessions, and deprive local citizens of critically needed resources."
The UN experts said many forces -- including Wagner -- had been committing systemic and grave human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, torture, disappearances and summary execution.
They said they had also received reports that Wagner operatives in the CAR had committed rape and sexual abuse but survivors were "terrified" to come forward for fear of retaliation.
The experts included the working groups on the use of mercenaries to violate human rights; on business and human rights; and on enforced disappearances; plus the special rapporteurs on torture and on extrajudicial executions.
"We urge the authorities to comply with their obligations under international law to hold accountable all perpetrators of grave violations and abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law committed on their territory," they said.
Moscow has said there are 1,135 "unarmed instructors" in the CAR, supporting the beleaguered government of President Faustin Archange Touadera.
The CAR is the second poorest country in the world, according to UN figures. It has been ravaged by a civil war since 2013, although the level of fighting has fallen off since 2018.