CAR minister Armel Sayo kidnapped 'for rebel chief'

Armel Sayo in Bangui, Central African Republic, on 11 October 2014 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Armel Sayo is the first government to be abducted since a transitional government was formed last year

The militia group which abducted Central African Republic's sports minister has demanded the release of its detained commander, the minister's spokeswoman has said.

Armel Sayo was seized while returning from church on Sunday by men linked to anti-balaka militia commander Rodrigue Nagibona, Tatiana Yangeko said.

The men had briefly abducted three people in the capital Bangui last week.

CAR has been gripped by religious and ethnic conflict since March 2013.

Mr Sayo is the first government minister to be abducted since the conflict broke out.

'Pulled from vehicle'

The anti-balaka is a mainly Christian militia formed to oppose the Muslim-led Seleka rebel group which overthrew President Francois Bozize in 2013.

Seleka handed power to a UN-backed transitional government last year, but large parts of the country continue to be lawless.

UN troops arrested Mr Nagibona, known as General Andjilo, earlier this month.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption UN peacekeepers earlier arrested one of the militia's leaders

He was wanted for alleged murder and rape in connection with attacks on minority Muslims in December 2013, as well as on charges over rebellion and looting.

Ms Yangeko said contact had been made between Mr Sayo's family and the kidnappers, who were demanding Mr Nagibona's release in exchange for the minister's freedom.

She did not give further details.

Mr Sayo was on his way home from church when his car was accosted in Bangui's Galabadja neighbourhood by fighters in an unmarked taxi, his wife, Nicaise Danielle Sayo, told Associated Press news agency.

"They instructed us to stop... They pulled him from his vehicle to put him in their car to head to Boy-Rabe, their stronghold,'' said Mrs Sayo, who was with her husband when he was abducted.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The anti-balaka have been involved in fierce fighting with Seleka rebels
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Freed French aid worker Claudia Priest arrived in Paris on Sunday

Last week, a Kurdish UN employee, a French aid worker and her local colleague briefly were abducted.

The aid worker, Claudia Priest, 67, returned to France on Sunday.

Her abduction was said to be linked to Mr Nagibona's arrest and the circumstances around her release and that of the other two people are unclear.

The conflict in CAR has killed thousands and displaced about one million.

The UN plans to bolster its troop presence in the country to 10,000 by April.

It currently has about 8,700 troops there.

Around the BBC