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C. Africa army head came to Russia for training: minister

Central African Republic's Defence Minister Marie Noelle Koyara said 1,300 soldiers had been trained at the Russian facility (AFP Photo/FLORENT VERGNES)

Moscow (AFP) - The defence minister of the Central African Republic said in an interview published Thursday that the chief-of-staff of the conflict-riven nation's army had been in Russia for training.

Russia's influence in CAR has been growing since 2017, when the UN-backed government there called for help to fight militias rampaging through the country.

Moscow has already supplied weapons, military officers, at least 170 military "trainers" and a security adviser to work with President Faustin-Archange Touadera.

"As of this month, 1,300 of our army's soldiers have been instructed and trained" at a Russian facility in CAR, minister Marie Noelle Koyara told Russia's RIA Novosti news agency.

"Our head of the general staff has himself been for training in Russia," she added, without providing further details.

Since Russia-trained soldiers have been deployed in the country, "the situation has not only stabilised, but visibly improved," she said.

The defence minister said that at the Russian centre at the former presidential palace in Berengo west of Bangui which opened last year, soldiers were instructed in how "to become a real military force".

"If necessary, this centre in Berengo can be expanded because it has already proven its effectiveness as a training platform," she said in remarks translated into Russian.

The African nation is historically linked to France and already has EU and UN aid, but Koyara insisted Moscow and Paris were acting as partners rather than rivals in the region.

Rival militias have been battling each other since the 2013 overthrow of longtime leader Francois Bozize, a Christian, by majority-Muslim militias in a coalition called the Seleka.

A UN arms embargo imposed that year was in 2017 lifted exclusively for Moscow.

Most of the country's territory remains in the hands of armed groups despite Touadera's election in 2016.

Violence has claimed thousands of lives, and hundreds of thousands of people have been internally displaced or fled abroad.

The military trainers sent by Russia are mercenaries with close ties to Russian mining companies and the numbers deployed could be significantly higher than officially reported, according to reports in Russian and Western media.

Last year three Russian journalists who were investigating the shadowy Russian "Wagner" mercenary group were ambushed and murdered in CAR.