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UNITED NATIONS: The UN chief has denounced abuses by the Central African Republic army and its foreign supporters, an allusion to paramilitary fighters from the Russia-linked Wagner group.

"I remain appalled by the continued increase in human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law perpetrated by all parties to the conflict, including excessive use of force," Antonio Guterres said in a report submitted to the Security Council Tuesday.

The Central African Republic has been mired in civil war since 2013.

While violence had decreased in recent years, it resumed abruptly when rebels launched a failed offensive to overthrow President Faustin-Archange Touadera in late 2020.

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"I urge national authorities to take demonstratable and immediate action to prevent grave human rights violations by national security forces and other security personnel, including abuses targeting ethnic and religious minorities," Guterres said.

The UN uses the term "other security personnel" to refer to the hundreds of Russian paramilitary forces who fight alongside the army, and who have helped them over the past year push back rebels from their strongholds.

In 2021, the UN accused the mercenaries and the Central African forces of abuse, alongside its ongoing condemnation of crimes committed against civilians by the country's rebel groups.

In the new report, which covers the period from October to February, Guterres touches in particular on an operation carried out near Bria, some 370 miles (600 kilometers) northeast of the capital Bangui, by the national army and paramilitaries.

The operation which occurred in mid-January resulted "in 17 civilian deaths" and displacement of the general population, the report said, without providing further detail.

Guterres indicated that the UN peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) was denied access to the army and "other security personnel" on three occasions in January under the pretext that the sites where the events of concern had occurred "were private."

MINUSCA has around 15,000 soldiers and police, with an annual budget of approximately $1 billion.

During the period under review, "humanitarian personnel continued to be targeted by armed groups, national defense and security forces and other security personnel," Guterres said.

"The humanitarian situation continued to deteriorate" since October, he said, adding that 63 percent of the population -- or 3.1 million Central Africans -- require protection and humanitarian assistance at the highest level in five years.

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