A Polish Catholic missionary has been kidnapped by eight armed men in Central African Republic (CAR) who are demanding the release of their leader in return for the priest's freedom.
Mateusz Dziedzic, a CAR missionary since 2009, was abducted by members of a rebel group known as the Democratic Front of the Central African People (FDPC) on Sunday October 12.
"They said they wanted to exchange the kidnapped missionary for their leader, who is currently imprisoned in Cameroon," said Tomasz Atlas, head of Poland's Pontifical Mission Societies.
FDPC head Abdoulaye Miskine was arrested in Cameroon in September 2013. His rebel group is one of a number that has fought the Central African Republic government – and also each other – in an off-on conflict in the former French colony over the past decade.
It was initially allied with Seleka, a coalition of Muslim rebels that also included fighters from neighbouring Sudan and Chad, which toppled the government and seized the capital Bangui in March 2013. Miskine fled to Cameroon after a dispute with Seleka.
Atlas said the FDPC had kidnapped "a dozen or so" Central African Republic citizens and eight Cameroonians recently. He said the kidnappers had also tried to kidnap a second priest along with Dziedzic but had given up "after negotiations".
Polish foreign ministry spokesman Marcin Wojciechowski said Dziedzic was being treated well and that he had spoken with other missionaries by telephone since his abduction.
A ministry statement said: "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has set up an emergency team which is in ongoing contact with the Polish Episcopal Conference's Commission for Missions."
It added that "all speculation might adversely influence a positive solution to the case" and called for "media discretion and prudence".
Thirty-two Polish missionaries are currently working in the former French colony.
The CAR is one of the 10 poorest countries in the world and has descended into chaos in recent years. The Seleka coalition of Muslim rebel groups seized the capital, Bangui, in November 2013. There were widespread revenge attacks by Christian 'anti-balaka' militias and fears of genocide prompted the dispatch of a UNN peacekeeping force.
However, a new wave of violence has broken out which saw hundreds of people seeking sanctuary in St Paul's Catholic Church in Bangui.
"They are afraid of the anti-balaka who have entered their neighbourhoods," Rev Jesus Martial Dembele, vicar general of the archdiocese of Bangui, said. "They killed people and burnt down homes."