Three senior members of a Central African Republic rebel group were abducted by unknown assailants in the capital Bangui on Monday after participating in peace talks convened by interim President Catherine Samba-Panza's government.
The men from the Union for Peace in Central Africa (UPC), a faction of the former Seleka rebel alliance, were missing after their vehicle was attacked in the Combattant neighbourhood, controlled by the rival anti-balaka militia, rebel sources said.
The attack, from which a fourth UPC delegate escaped with serious injuries, could undermine efforts to reach a ceasefire agreement that would pave the way for presidential elections that France and its international allies want this year.
Central African Republic was plunged into sectarian violence when the mostly Muslim rebel group briefly seized power in the predominantly Christian country in early 2013, prompting a wave of reprisals by the anti-balaka militia. U.N. and French peacekeeping forces have failed to restore calm.
"Four members of the delegation went to the base of the French peacekeeping force this morning. They were returning in a taxi when they were ambushed," said General Mohamed Dhaffane, head of another faction of Seleka. He called for the release of the three rebels.
The missing men included the UPC's spokesman Ahmat Nejad and its secretary-general, Ahssan Bouba. The UPC, a movement made up largely of ethnic Peuhl fighters, controls the central town of Bambari and is regarded as a moderate grouping within Seleka.
Six of its senior members have been in Bangui since Friday to take part in peace negotiations convened in the wake of a explosion of sectarian violence there last month.
The abduction has not been claimed by any armed group. It comes just days after anti-balaka militiamen briefly seized a senior figure in the transitional government outside Bangui.
Sebastien Wenezoui, representative of the anti-balaka in the government as environment minister, said that radical Seleka fighters may have colluded in the kidnapping after the UPC resisted efforts to mount an attack on Bangui this month.