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Lavrov: Wagner Mali, CAR Operations 'Will Continue'

FILE: This undated photograph shows Russian mercenaries in northern Mali. Russia has engaged in operations in at least half a dozen countries in Africa in the last five years using the shadowy Wagner Group mercenary force, and says it will continue using them.

MOSCOW — Russia's Wagner mercenary group will continue operations in Mali and the Central African Republic despite its leader's aborted rebellion over the weekend, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday.

Wagner members "are working there as instructors. This work, of course, will continue," Russian FM Lavrov said in an interview with RT, adding that the weekend revolt by the mercenary force would not affect Russia's ties with what it terms its "partners and friends."

At Wagner Group's headquarters, it said Monday it was working in "normal mode."

The statement from the office came as the fate of Wagner was uncertain after the rebellion and as Russia appeared to take a business-as-usual approach.

"Despite events that have taken place, the center continues to work in normal mode in accordance to the law of the Russian Federation," the office, based in Russia's second city of Saint Petersburg, said.

It said Wagner has "worked for the future of Russia" and thanked its supporters.

Wagner's chief Yevgeny Prigozhin has not been seen since Saturday, but the Kremlin said he will be sent to neighboring Belarus after a Minsk-brokered deal to halt his rebellion.

Despite Putin calling the Wagner mutiny "treason" and warning of civil war, some of the group's offices around Russia were still recruiting fighters, Russian media reported.

The TASS state news agency said Wagner recruitment reopened in Siberia's Novosibirsk and Tyumen.

Wagner, whose very existence Moscow denied until its Ukraine offensive, said it had "created opportunities for the (self) realization of talented people from all over the country."

It said that on top of developing "domestic drones," it had also worked on "preparing information fighters and countering the information war."

Prigozhin is known to have led an infamous troll farm in Saint Petersburg - the "Internet Research Bureau" allegedly involved in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

"Recruitment is ongoing," TASS quoted a Wagner worker in Novosibirsk as saying.

In the Duma - Russia's lower house of parliament - however, lawmakers said the group could no longer recruit convicts.

Prigozhin had recruited thousands of Russian prisoners to fight in Ukraine, promising an amnesty upon their return if they survive.

"There was a time when (Wagner) could take those who were convicted and sign a contract with them," senior lawmaker Pavel Krasheninnikov said, according to the Interfax news agency.

"Now the law says there is a different procedure, under which contracts can only be signed with the defence ministry."