France - Central African Republic

Freed aid worker in the CAR to return to France

French humanitarian worker Claudia Priest.
French humanitarian worker Claudia Priest. AFP PHOTO / EMILIE IOB

The French aid worker who was kidnapped this week in the Central African Republic and freed Friday will arrive at a military airport near Paris on Sunday evening.

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Claudia Priest, 67, was in the Central African Republic for a two-week assignment with the Catholic medical organization CODIS when she and a local worker, Gustave Reyossé, were kidnapped by members of the anti-Balaka militia on Monday morning.

Priest told RFI that she did not expect to be freed.

“The climate was really deteriorating,” Priest said. “So one morning I decided to say, ‘stop, I’m not going to get up anymore, or eat anymore.’ I just stayed on my bed of made bricks with a water bottle and I was waiting, just waiting. I think this made them scared.”

Local authorities worked with religions authorities to secure their release – a key player was the Archbishop of Bangui, Dieudonné Nzapalainga.

Nzapalainga took a lead in the negotiations and knew Claudia Priest well.

“I went to get Mrs. Priest myself he said,” Nzapalainga said. “I brought her and brother Gustave back. We are very happy.”

Nzapalainga worked with country’s interior ministry and specialists from France to negotiate with the anti-Balaka, a Christian militia formed to fight the Muslim Seleka, which took power in March 2013.

Reports indicate that the kidnapping was organized by the brother of an anti-Balaka leader, Rodrigue Nagibona, known as General Andjilo – who was arrested last weekend by UN peacekeepers.

Andjilo had been on the run after being accused of masterminding a massacre of some 300 Muslims in December of 2013.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius congratulated the efforts made to free the hostages.

“The Central Afircan government that helped us, the UN peacekeepers, too,” Fabius said to RFI. “We have specialized personnel who are very competent. Plus, the Archbishop of Bangui helped a lot.”

France will be pulling its troops out of the UN mission that were deployed to Bangui in December 2013.

The mission was launched in a bid to stop clashes between the anti-Balaka and the Seleka, which have since left thousands of people dead, and nearly a million displaced.

The mission has 2,000 troops today and will be reduced to 800 by this fall.
 

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