Russia has asked the UN Security Council for permission to supply light arms and ammunition to the struggling armed forces of the Central African Republic beginning next week, according to a request obtained by AFP on Tuesday.
The move has raised concerns from France which has questioned Russia’s plan, notably over the storage of the weaponry, according to a Security Council diplomat who declined to be named.
Russia is asking for an exemption to the arms embargo imposed on the Central African Republic in 2013 when the impoverished country descended into violence.
CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadera asked Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for the military assistance during talks at the Black Sea resort of Sochi in October, a diplomat said.
Russia is proposing to provide two battalions totaling 1,300 men — who were recently trained by the European Union — with automatic rifles, pistols and ammunition.
Council members have until Wednesday at 3:00 pm (2000 GMT) to consider the request.
If no objections are raised, Russia will receive a green light for the shipments that would begin next week, according to the request.
A first shipment is planned for Monday, with two others scheduled for February 1 and April 1.
Safe storage of guns
The three-stage delivery would address French concerns that the weapons be stored under tight security to prevent them from falling into the hands of rebel groups.
Russian defense ministry officials traveled to CAR on November 25 to 27 to review the newly-trained forces and discuss the military aid.
“Having assessed the situation in CAR, the Russian side agreed with the opinion of this country’s leadership on the necessity to increase the overall strength of the armed forces of the Central African Republic,” said the request from the Russian mission to the United Nations.
Among the weapons on the proposed list are 900 pistols, 5,200 assault rifles, 140 sniper rifles, 840 Kalashnikov machine guns, 270 RPGs and 20 anti-aircraft guns, the document said.
Russia would also provide millions of pieces of ammunition including armor-piercing cartridges, hand grenades and mortars, the document said.
“Storage and stockpile management of weapons of the first delivery will be organized at the already existing storage facilities under armed protection,” said the document.
Russia offered to provide additional storage for weapons shipped to areas outside of the capital Bangui, where most of the clashes are taking place.
During his address to the United Nations in September, Touadera appealed for an easing of the arms embargo to allow his government to purchase military equipment for his national army.
Moscow has also agreed to provide training to CAR’s forces but that deal has yet to be approved by the council’s sanctions committee.
The Central African Republic has been struggling to return to stability since the country exploded into bloodshed after the 2013 overthrow of longtime leader Francois Bozize by the mainly Muslim Seleka rebel alliance.
France intervened militarily to push out the Seleka alliance but the country remains plagued with violence pitting groups competing for control of resources and areas of influence.