MOSCOW: Three Russian journalists who were killed in the Central African Republic were investigating the activities of a private Russian army there, a media organisation they were working with said Wednesday.
Journalists Kirill Radchenko, Alexander Rastorguyev and Orkhan Dzhemal were killed on Monday in the strife-torn country, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed earlier.
"On Friday, July 27 (they) flew to the Central African Republic to shoot material on the activities of PMC Wagner in the country as part of a joint project with the Investigations Management Centre," the centre wrote on its Facebook page late Tuesday.
The Wagner Group has been described as Russia's shadow army which has operated in many of the world's hotspots, including Syria.
Analysts say Moscow uses the private company so it can play down military activity in countries such as Syria and Ukraine and discount casualties.
A journalist who was investigating Wagner's activities in Syria in April died after falling from the balcony of his fifth-floor flat in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg.
The Investigations Management Centre is a media project launched by exiled former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who spent a decade in Russian jail after falling foul of the Kremlin and now lives in Britain.
The circumstances of the deaths of the three journalists in the Central African Republic are unclear.
On Wednesday, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said neither the journalists themselves nor those who were backing their trip had told Russian authorities they would be in the country.
"They declared tourism as the purpose of their trip," she told the state channel Russia 24.
"The process of identification has been complicated by the fact that the dead Russians were not carrying their passports on them," she added.
Historically the major international player in the CAR has been France, but Russia has taken on an official role since December last year, when it was authorised by the UN to provide the armed forces with weapons and training.