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UN staffer freed after new Central African kidnapping

Armed men from the mainly Christian anti-balaka militia released a UN employee in the Central African Republic after holding her briefly on Tuesday, a military spokesman said.

Bangui: Armed men from the mainly Christian anti-balaka militia released a UN employee in the Central African Republic after holding her briefly on Tuesday, a military spokesman said.

"We have obtained the release of the employee with MINUSCA (the UN peacekeeping mission) and have handed her over," Igor Lamaka told AFP. A Western source confirmed the release.

In New York, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the woman taken hostage "is either back in the hands of the UN or on the way back," adding: "We are obviously very pleased."

On Tuesday, gunmen captured the MINUSCA employee from a van driving UN staffers to work in the capital Bangui not far from the airport, a mission source said earlier.

The woman was said to be an expatriate, but her nationality was not immediately clear. A Ugandan colleague who was with her at the time managed to escape.

On Monday, a 67-year-old French woman and a local man were kidnapped in central Bangui. All three abductions are being blamed on anti-balaka militia, who were angered at the arrest of one of their leaders by UN peacekeepers on Saturday.

Rodrigue Nagibona, alias General Andjilo, was accused of masterminding a massacre of some 300 minority Muslims in December 2013, and had been on the run for several months before being detained in the country`s northwest.

The anti-balaka militias protested his arrest on Sunday and Monday in their Boy-Rabe stronghold in the northeast of the city. 

Several witnesses reported kidnapping attempts and robberies in the neighbourhood, and UN MINUSCA soldiers on Tuesday increased the number of foot patrols in the area.

The archbishop of Bangui, Dieudonne Nzapalainga, is negotiating with the kidnappers to secure the release of the captives.Violence between rival factions has plunged the deeply impoverished country into an unprecedented political and security crisis. The conflict, which began in 2013, has claimed thousands of lives.

The anti-balaka are mainly Christian militias formed to fight off relentless attacks from mostly Muslim rebels of the Seleka coalition. The Seleka seized power in March 2013 but were routed from Bangui in January last year. 

Both groups have been accused of serious abuses against civilians.

Anti-balaka means "anti-machete" in the local Sango language and refers to the weapon of choice wielded by the Seleka -- but also taken up by the vigilantes.

Currently three international forces -- France`s Sangaris operation, the UN`s MINUSCA mission and the European Union`s EUROF-RCA -- are helping maintain peace aside from the Central African military.

"There is a coordination problem between the different forces on the ground. The main routes have not been sealed off yet, but we hope to do that during the day. For the moment, it`s best to stay at home," said a security source on condition of anonymity.

On Tuesday the anti-balaka also refused to enter into peace negotiations as a another manner of protesting Nagibona`s arrest.

"A very influential individual of the anti-balaka has been arrested arbitrarily. This perverse decision forces us to rethink our stance," the group said in a statement.

Measures taken by the MINUSCA forces have torpedoed efforts to restore peace in the country, the statement claimed.

Four other anti-balaka chiefs were arrested in September 2014 and charged with illegal arms possession. Their trial has been set for January 28, following a postponement.

In March 2014, another 11 anti-balaka leaders were detained, but they managed to escape.