BANGUI (Reuters) - Central African Republic’s minister for youth and sport was kidnapped on Sunday by gunmen in the capital, Bangui, and a second minister narrowly escaped capture in a town to the north, officials said.
The seizure of Armel Ningatoloum Sayo follows the brief kidnapping earlier this week of a U.N. staff member and a French charity worker, highlighting insecurity in the country despite the presence of French and U.N. peace keepers.
Tatiana Yangeko, Sayo’s spokeswoman, said the minister was driving his wife and his brother back from church when four unidentified gunmen in a taxi stopped their vehicle in Bangui’s 8th arrondissement, in the north of the capital.
“They got out of the taxi, shot in the air and forced the minister out of his car. They fled with him towards Boy Rabe,” Yangeko said, referring to a neighborhood that is a stronghold of the ‘anti-Balaka’ militia.
“We have told the prime minister,” she added.
Later, a government source told Reuters that Education Minister Eloi Anguimate was targeted in a separate kidnapping attempt in Kaga Bandoro, some 300 km (186 miles) north of Bangui on Sunday.
Anguimate escaped but his driver, assistant and the mayor of the town were seized, the source said.
It was not immediately clear if the incidents were connected or who was behind them.
Central African Republic has been gripped by violence since the northern, mainly Muslim Seleka alliance rebelled and seized power in March 2013. The group was forced to stand aside last year having failed to contain clashes with the ‘anti-Balaka’ militia and the waves of tit-for-tat violence that went with the fighting.
The French charity worker’s kidnapping had been linked to the arrest earlier this month by U.N. peace keepers of a senior member of the ‘anti-Balaka’ militia. The leader, known as General Andjilo, was wanted for crimes including murder, rebellion, rape and looting.
Sayo was a senior officer in the presidential guard before being arrested by former president Francois Bozize.
He led a northern rebel group called “Revolution and Justice” but was named minister in the 2014 peace deal in the former French colony, which was seen little but conflict and political instability since independence in 1960.
Seleka rebels still occupy much of the north and the interim government is struggling to stamp its authority on the country. But France has started withdrawing some troops as the U.N. force, due to reach 10,000 by the end of April, deploys ahead of elections due later this year.
Additional reporting and writing by David Lewis; Editing by Catherine Evans and Stephen Powell