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MOSCOW (AP) — The Russian Foreign Ministry on Friday reaffirmed a strong denial of U.N. experts’ claims that Russian military instructors were involved in killing civilians and looting in the Central African Republic.

In a written reply to the AP’s request for comment, the ministry rejected the accusations as unfounded and argued that they were aimed to “discredit the Russian efforts to stabilize the situation in CAR and help restore peace.”

A panel of U.N. experts monitoring sanctions on the conflict-torn African nation said in a 40-page report obtained Monday by The Associated Press that it collected testimonies from a large number of local officials, government military and internal security forces, and community-level sources in multiple locations in the country. It said they pointed to “excessive use of force, indiscriminate killings, the occupation of schools and looting on a large scale” by Russian military instructors.

The panel said many of the officials and other sources reported that Russian instructors “often led rather than followed” Central African Republic troops as they advanced on different towns and villages in a counter-offensive against rebels linked to former President Francois Bozize. Bozize tried to prevent elections in December and then attempted to seize power from President Faustin Archange Touadera.

Asked about the report earlier this week, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov categorically rejected the accusations as “yet another lie.”

“Russian military advisers couldn’t take part and didn’t take part in any killings or lootings,” Peskov said in a conference call with reporters.

In its written comment sent to the AP Friday, the Russian Foreign Ministry reaffirmed that the Russian military instructors had been in the country at the request of the country’s legitimate government and in accordance with the U.N. rules.

It added that the instructors’ task is to train the CAR’s armed forces and “provide consultative and humanitarian assistance to the country’s security forces.” It said their mission has helped the CAR’s army to defeat the militants, reduce CAR military losses and “take more effective measures to protect civilians.”

The ministry noted that “if the insinuations about the instructors’ ‘abuses’ had had any real grounds and local residents actively voiced protest, CAR’s legitimate authorities would hardly have insisted on Russian specialists’ further presence.”

The mineral-rich Central African Republic has faced deadly inter-religious and inter-communal fighting since 2013. A peace deal between the government and 14 rebel groups was signed in February 2019, but violence blamed on Bozize and his allies threatens to nullify the agreement.

The hostilities erupted after the constitutional court rejected Bozize’s candidacy to run for president in December and have continued since Touadera won a second term later that month with 53% of the vote.

Last week, the U.S., Britain and France accused Russian personnel in CAR of committing abuses against civilians and obstructing U.N. peacekeeping — accusations that Russia angrily denied.

The Western powers linked the Russian personnel to the notorious Wagner Group, a private security company allegedly tied to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessman who has been indicted in the U.S. on charges of meddling in 2016 presidential election and whose companies have reportedly secured lucrative mining contracts in CAR.