Kidnapped Catholic clergy, including French citizens, held for $1 million ransom in Haiti

·2-min read

Seven Catholic clergy, including two French citizens, were kidnapped Sunday in Haiti, said the spokesman of the Bishop's Conference for the island nation, which has been rocked by unrest.

Five priests and two nuns were abducted in the morning in Croix-des-Bouquets, a commune northeast of the capital Port-au-Prince, while they were "on their way to the installation of a new parish priest", Father Loudger Mazile told AFP.

The kidnappers had demanded a $1 million ransom for the group, which includes one French priest and one French nun, he added.

France's foreign ministry confirmed that two French citizens had been kidnapped in Haiti but did not provide further details, citing security reasons.

"The crisis and support centre of the ministry of Europe and foreign affairs is fully mobilised as well as our embassy in Haiti, in close contact with local authorities," the statement said .

Haitian authorities suspect an armed gang called "400 Mawozo" -- which is active in kidnappings -- is behind the abduction, according to a police source.

Kidnappings for ransom have surged in recent months in Port-au-Prince and other provinces, reflecting the growing influence of armed gangs in the Caribbean nation.

Gangs on the rise

"This is too much. The time has come for these inhuman acts to stop," Bishop Pierre-André Dumas of the Haitian commune Miragoane told AFP.

"The Church prays and stands in solidarity with all the victims of this heinous act."

In March, the Haitian government declared a month-long state of emergency to restore state authority in gang-controlled areas, including in the capital.

The measure was motivated by the actions of armed gangs who "kidnap people for ransom, openly declaring it, steal and loot public and private property, and openly confront the public security forces", according to the presidential decree.

The rise in gang violence and political instability have recently drawn protesters onto the streets of Port-au-Prince.

A week ago, hundreds of female protesters rallied in the city against the growing power of gangs, which has led to a spike in kidnappings for ransom.

Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, has also been in a months-long political crisis.

President Jovenel Moïse maintains that his term of office runs until February 7, 2022, but others claim it ended on February 7, 2021.

The disagreement stems from the fact that Moïse was elected in a vote that was cancelled for fraud, and then re-elected a year later.

Without a parliament, the country fell further into crisis in 2020, and Moïse is governing by decree, fuelling growing mistrust of him.

Amid the instability, Moïse has said he plans to hold a constitutional referendum in June.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)