Two French and five Haitian religious officials as well as three civilians were kidnapped on the Caribbean island on Sunday as they were preparing to attend the inauguration of a new parish priest near Port-au-Prince. Kidnappers demanded a ransom of one million dollars.
The group was kidnapped in the commune of Croix-des-Bouquets near the capital Port-au-Prince, where they were preparing to attend the installation of a new parish priest, Father Loudger Mazile, spokesperson of the island’s Bishop’s Conference, told AFP agency.
The French members of the group included a priest and nun, while the Haitian group included four priests and one nun. The three civilians are associates of a priest who was not among those kidnapped.
Mazile said a ransom of one million dollars was demanded for their release.
A police source told AFP investigators suspected the kidnapping to be the work of an armed gang called 400 Mawozo.
France’s ambassador to Haiti had not commented as of Monday morning.
Gang violence increases
Kidnappings and demands for ransoms have surged in recent months, both in the capital and in rural areas, reflecting the growing influence of armed gangs in the Caribbean nation.
“[We express] deep sadness but also anger in regard to the inhuman situation that we have been facing for more than a decade,” read a statement issued by the Haitian Conference of the Clergy.
“Not a day goes by without tears and clenched teeth, yet the so-called leaders of this country, while clinging to power, are more and more powerless.”
Last month, Haiti’s government declared a month-long state of emergency to restore state authority in areas that have seen a surge in kidnappings, theft, looting and clashes with security forces in many districts.
The rise in gang violence and political instability have recently drawn public demonstrations to the streets of Port-au-Prince, including on 3 April, which hundreds of women rallied against the growing influence of gangs.
Haiti has also been mired in a political crisis in recent months.
President Jovenel Moïse argues his mandate ends on 7 February 2022, while opponents say it ended on 7 February 2021.
The disagreement stems from the fact that Moïse was elected in a vote that was invalidated due to fraud and then re-elected one year later.
The country has been without a parliament since last year, since when Moïse has been governing by decree. The president has also said he plans to hold a constitutional referendum in June.