Gunmen stormed a Chinese-operated gold mine in the Central African Republic on Sunday, killing nine Chinese nationals, authorities said.
"We have counted nine bodies and two wounded," the mayor of the nearby town of Bambari, Abel Matchipata, told Agence France-Presse.
He said the victims were Chinese workers at a site run by the Gold Coast Group. Following the attack, the Chinese embassy called on Chinese natonals to not travel outside the captal Bangui, according to a statement on the embassy website.
The assault on the Chimbolo gold mine began around 5 a.m. local time (0400 GMT) when the gunmen overpowered the site's guards and opened fire, said Matchipata.
The mining site's launch had taken place just days earlier, he added.
The attack came just days after gunmen kidnapped three Chinese nationals in the country's west near the border with Cameroon. The abductions prompted CAR President Faustin Archange Touadera to plan a trip to China in a bid to reassure investors.
CPC suspected, blames Russian mercenaries
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Sunday's attack.
But suspicion fell on the Coalition of Patriots for Change, or CPC, which is active in the area and regularly launches attacks on the country's armed forces.
The alliance of rebel groups is aligned with former President Francois Bozize, who was ousted by Muslim-dominated armed groups in 2013.
Anselme Bangue, who supports the current president's administration, called the attack on Chinese businessmen an act of "indescribable cowardice."
"The CPC has not only slowed down the country's economic momentum but is now attacking the foundation of development. This is unacceptable," Bangue said.
However, CPC military spokesman Mamadou Koura said those allegations were false.
He claimed, without providing evidence, that Russian mercenaries had planned the attack "with the goal of scaring Chinese who have been present long before the Russians settled in this part of the country."
The shadowy Russian mercenary group was hired by Touadera to provide security and military training but has been accused by United Nations observers of committing human rights abuses including massacres.
Security vacuum leaves CAR vulnerable
Despite its vast mineral wealth of gold and diamonds, the Central African Republic remains one of the poorest countries in the world.
Dozens of rebel groups have operated with impunity over the past decade, thwarting mining exploration by foreign companies.
Many of the mines now operating in the country are Chinese-run and have faced security challenges.
In 2020, two Chinese nationals died when local residents led an uprising against a Chinese-operated mine in Sosso Nakombo.
And in 2018, three Chinese citizens were killed by angry community members after a local leader died in a boating accident while accompanying Chinese miners to a site.
ar, mm/jsi (AFP, AP)