8 kidnapped Central African officials are freed

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BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) — Eight Central African Republic officials kidnapped by members of the country's former rebel coalition have been freed, one of the officials said Monday.

Central African Republic has seen a spate of kidnappings recently. The country's sports minister was kidnapped Sunday and is still missing. Last week, a Kurdish U.N. staffer, a French aid worker and her local colleague were briefly held.

On Monday, the eight officials were handed over to U.N. peacekeepers, a day after being grabbed by former Seleka fighters, according to Gaston Yendemon, prefect of Nana-Grebizi, who was among those kidnapped. A mayor and a deputy prefect were also in the group, which was working to implement a national dialogue to help the country out of its crisis.

Central African Republic was hit by unprecedented sectarian violence about a year ago when the Christian anti-Balaka militia was formed to combat the mostly Muslim Seleka rebles, who had taken control of the country.

Seleka's leader, who was installed as head of state in 2013, stepped down under intense international pressure in early 2014. A transitional government, backed by international peacekeepers, is currently trying to steer the country to elections. But the kidnappings suggest that insecurity and lawlessness persist throughout the country.

Sports Minister Armel Mingatoloum Sayo was on his way home from church Sunday morning when his car was ambushed in the capital, according to his wife. On Sunday, police were briefly able to make contact with the kidnappers, who demanded an unspecified sum of money, said Tatiana Yangueko, a spokeswoman for the minister. But authorities don't know where Sayo is being held and haven't been able to reach the kidnappers again.

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