October 29, 2014 / 8:45 PM / 5 years ago

U.N. peacekeepers free 67 hostages in Central African Republic

BANGUI (Reuters) - U.N. peacekeepers in the Central African Republic freed 67 hostages who had been seized by militia groups, a spokeswoman for the U.N. mission known as MINUSCA said on Wednesday.

Four women were taken hostage in the capital Bangui while the rest were seized in the interior of the country, spokeswoman Myriam Dessables told a news conference. All were released after military operations by the peacekeepers.

The releases represent positive news for civilians and the U.N. mission in a country plunged into chaos when the mostly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the majority Christian country in March 2013, toppling President Francois Bozize.

Seleka’s rule was marred by abuses that prompted a backlash from the mostly Christian and animist anti-balaka militia. Seleka leader Michel Djotodia bowed to international pressure and went into exile in January.

“In the center of the country on Oct. 21, around 60 people were kidnapped by the ex-Seleka. The muscular intervention of a battalion from Democratic Republic of Congo enabled these hostages to be freed,” she said.

The kidnappings came in the context of violence in the capital earlier this month in which the United Nations said at least 13 people died.

Dessables said a Rwandan battalion learned on Tuesday afternoon that civilians had been kidnapped and were being held in the Kina neighborhood of the capital. They were able to secure the release of all four women.

The hostages said they were detained for days by anti-balaka militias who accused them of being traitors for having sold goods at the market at the mainly Muslim KM-5 neighborhood, according to Dessables.

Reporting by Crispin Dembassa-Kette; Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg; Editing by Tom Heneghan

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