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Central African Republic charges European aid worker with terrorism and undermining security

CTV News
BANGUI, Central African Republic -

Authorities in the Central African Republic charged a European aid worker who was arrested last month with terrorism and undermining state security, the public prosecutor's office said.

Martin Joseph Figueira, a Belgian-Portuguese consultant for the American nongovernmental organization FHI360, has been accused of being in communication with armed groups to plot a coup, thereby jeopardizing national security.

On Friday, the prosecutor charged him with six crimes, including undermining the internal and external state security, as well as terrorism. If found guilty, he faces a sentence of forced labour for life.

Among Figueira's alleged crimes, the prosecutor's office listed "the existence of several contracts with the leaders of armed groups, supply of strategic information on the different positions of the Central African Armed Forces (FACA), money and weapons, being identified as an alleged employee of an American nongovernmental organization carrying out research on Fulani herders."

Figueira also allegedly "defended war crimes and crimes against humanity; the propaganda of armed groups while encouraging them to create an international terrorist branch like the Islamic State," the statement added.

Figueira holds Belgian and Portuguese passports. On his Belgian passport he goes under the name of Martin Joseph Edouard.

FHI360, a public health NGO that manages projects related to family planning and reproductive health, confirmed that one of its workers is in custody in the Central African Republic.

Figueira was arrested last month in Zemio, a town in southeastern Central African Republic that has been plagued by fighting between local ethnic militias and anti-government rebels for over a decade.

"We are working to secure our consultant's immediate release," FHI360's spokesperson Jennifer Garcia told The Associated Press immediately after his arrest.

So far, The Associated Press has not been able to contact Figueira, and none of his lawyers commented on Friday's statement.

Mohamed Ag Ayoya, deputy special representative of the U.N. Secretary-General in charge of humanitarian action, told the AP he was monitoring the situation.

"We learned of the news and the prosecutor's press release through the press." Ayoya said. "We have no comment to make. But what I can tell you at this level it is his embassy in Bangui, which is managing the file."

Authorities have warned foreign NGO workers against taking part in activities that could jeopardize national security or they could face judicial proceedings.

Following Figueira's arrest, the military was deployed to Zemio, after more than six years of absence from the town. The Russian mercenary group Wagner, which for years has had a significant a presence in Central African Republic, was also deployed there at the same time to train local militias and recruit them for the army. It wasn't immediately clear whether Wagner forces were still present in the city.

The Central African Republic has been in conflict since 2013, when predominantly Muslim rebels seized power and forced then-president Francois Bozize from office. Mostly Christian militias fought back. A 2019 peace deal helped slow the fighting but six of the 14 armed groups that signed later left the agreement.

A U.N. peacekeeping mission and Rwandan troops are currently deployed in the Central African Republic to try to quell the violence and protect civilians. Top Stories

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