Libreville — Russia and China are muscling their way into the Central African Republic (CAR) as Western clout in the mineral-rich, strategically important nation seems to wane, analysts say. Ranked at the very bottom of the UN’s 188-nation Human Development Index, CAR is mired in poverty and strife. Most of the country is in the hands of militia groups, and violence has prompted a quarter of its 4.5-million people to flee their homes. Even so, the dirt-poor nation sparkles in natural wealth — from diamonds and gold to copper and uranium — and holds a position at the crossroads of central Africa. France, the former colonial power, has traditionally wielded the most clout in CAR. It intervened militarily in 2013 after long-time leader François Bozizé was overthrown by a mainly Muslim rebel alliance, the Séléka. France handed on to a UN peacekeeping mission, but its military visibility has shrunk to 81 military trainers and drones. Earlier this month, France sent Mirage 2000 warplanes ...

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