A UN employee working with the organization's peacekeeping body in the Central African Republic (CAR), has been released hours after being abducted in the capital of Bangui Tuesday, officials said.
"A staff member was detained for some time this morning in Bangui," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York. "She's safely released and were obviously very pleased."
The woman, employed with the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR, known as MINUSCA, was reportedly taken as she was driving in a van with colleagues near Bangui airport, a mission employee told the AFP. A fellow Ugandan staffer there at the time managed to escape.
Earlier on Monday, a 67-year-old French charity worker and local man were abducted by armed men in the capital city. All three abductions come days after MINUSCA detained a prominent general with the anti-balaka, a Christian and animist militia, and experts believe the incidents are linked.
Cameroon's arm of the UN peacekeeping mission captured Rodrigue Ngaibona — who goes by the alias General Andjilo — on Saturday in Bouca, approximately 195 miles north of Bangui on Saturday, eight months after a warrant was issued for his arrest in May, according to France 24. The general is accused of ordering the mass killing of some 300 minority Muslims in December 2013.
Roland Marchal, a senior researcher at the Paris Institute of Political Science and expert in Central African armed conflicts, described Ngaibona as "someone who is feared and known as one of the cruelest anti-balaka leaders."
After the general's arrest, anti-balaka members staged a series of protests in the group's stronghold in Boy-Rabe in the northeast of Bangui.
Thierry Vircoulon, project director for Central Africa at the International Crisis Group, told VICE News he believes the recent abductions were direct "retaliations" to Ngaibona's capture.
Several media sources, including French daily Le Monde, have reported that the abductors have demanded the release of the general in exchange for the two hostages still held captive.
France's ministry of foreign affairs told VICE News that the archbishop of Bangui Monseigneur Dieudonné Nzapalainga, had begun negotiations with another anti-balaka member, Edouard Ngaïssona, to secure the release of the hostages.
The CAR has been fractured by civil conflict since late 2012, when the mainly Muslim Seleka rebel coalition launched a series of attacks against the government.
Violence perpetrated by the Muslim rebels after they briefly seized power in 2013, prompted the formation of Christian vigilante militias calling themselves the anti-balaka, which translates to "anti-machete" in the local Sango language, and refers to the weapon of choice used by both the Seleka and the Christian militias.
The violent backlash caused almost the entire Muslim community to flee their homes in the country's south. In December 2013, France launched Operation Sangaris, a peacekeeping mission to restore law and order in the country. The UN installed MINUSCA in April 2014 to maintain peace, protect civilians, and deliver humanitarian aid.
Vircoulon said that the kidnapping of humanitarian workers in the landlocked African nation is not uncommon, adding that, "Militias survive off the racketeering they carry out on the backroads of the CAR... aid workers are an ideal target."
According to a journalist in Bangui, who spoke to VICE News on condition of anonymity, the Central African public has recently sought to distance itself from the Christian militia.
"The real anti-balaka" — the founding members of the movement — have reportedly left the organization, and those still fighting alongside Ngaibona are "bandits who behave like the Seleka," the journalist said.
Vircoulon agreed with this analysis, saying the anti-balaka movement has become "nothing more than a galaxy of local commanders with no real leadership," and no articulated political ambition.
VICE News' Liz Fields contributed to this report.