10 members of the Central African Armed Forces who spent several months in captivity arrived Wednesday (Apr. 05) at the Bangui Mpoko airport.
They were welcomed by ministers and the chief of staff. According to officials, 9 others will soon be freed. The last one was injured and is undergoing treatment at the Red Cross. He will be sent to the capital of the Central African Republic once he recovers.
The troops were seized in the raid in Vakaga region (norther CAR) on February 14 by a group called the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC).
Their abduction took place after heavy fighting in the northern village of Sikikede between the governmental forces and the rebels. The government had said that battle inflicted "considerable losses" on its forces.
Negotiations between the government, the CPC, the International Committee of the Red Cross and United Nations' peacekeeping mission in the country reportedly enabled this release.
Landlocked CAR remains scarred by a 2013 civil war, unleashed by a coup against then president Francois Bozize, in which armed groups battled.
The CPC is an alliance of militias created in 2020 in a bid to overthrow Bozizé's successor, Faustin Archange Touadéra.
In a statement, the CPC said it had taken a "voluntary and unilateral decision" to release the 20 following "negotiations" with the ICRC and the United Nations' peacekeeping mission in the country, MINUSCA.
The release of the 19 took place in an area where access is difficult, hampered by fighting between the rebels on the one side and the CAR on the other, helped by Russian paramilitaries.
Armed forces spokesman Augustin Ndando Kpako said the release of the 20 "had been our greatest priority... we wanted to see them free."
The CPC accused Touadéra, who is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, of refusing to get involved in securing the release of the men.
"The deafening silence of President Touadéra... and his defence minister demonstrate the lack of interest, the contempt even, that they have for soldiers," the CPC said.
The government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The CPC triggered a regional alarm when it advanced on Bangui in December 2020 as presidential and legislative elections loomed.
They were thwarted with the help of Russian paramilitaries, who were rushed in to shore up the country's fragile military after an appeal by Touadéra.
Their presence became the trigger for a chill in relations between CAR and France, the country's former colonial power.
France, the UN and others accuse them of being fighters from the Wagner group, who have been linked with atrocities and looting of resources.
Facing a mounting anti-French campaign, France suspended military cooperation and last December pulled its last troops from the country.