October 14, 2014 / 11:30 AM / 3 years ago

Polish missionary kidnapped in Central African Republic

WARSAW (Reuters) - A Polish Catholic missionary has been kidnapped by eight armed men in Central African Republic who are demanding the release of their leader in return for the priest's freedom, Polish officials said on Tuesday.

The head of the organisation that runs Poland's overseas Catholic missions said the men, belonging to a rebel group known as the Democratic Front of the Central African People (FDPC), abducted Mateusz Dziedzic on the night of Oct. 12 in the town of Baboua.

"They said they wanted to exchange the kidnapped missionary for their leader, who is currently imprisoned in Cameroon," Tomasz Atlas, head of Poland's Pontifical Mission Societies, told Reuters.

The FDPC, headed by Abdoulaye Miskine, is one of a number of armed groups 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 local rebels that also included fighters from neighbouring Sudan and Chad which toppled the government and seized the capital Bangui in March 2013.

After falling out with Seleka, Miskine fled to Cameroon and was arrested there in September 2013.

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".

Dziedzic has been a missionary since 2009, he added.

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. No further details were immediately available.

Reporting By Wiktor Szary and Marcin Goettig in Warsaw and Joe Bavier in Abidjan; Writing by Gareth Jones, editing by John Stonestreet

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