Police in the Central African Republic have detained four French soldiers who are with the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the country (MINUSCA). The arrests sparked false rumors that France had attempted to assassinate the C.A.R.’s president.
The French military personnel were arrested Monday at the airport in Bangui.
The four men were in the security escort of French general Stephane Marchenior, the U.N. peacekeeping mission chief of staff.
Marchenior was at the airport for a time Monday before C.A.R. President Faustin Archange Touadera was due to return from a trip to Belgium.
After Marchenior departed, the four soldiers were arrested. President Touadera’s plane landed a half-hour following the arrests.
The soldiers remained in custody Tuesday, and police have not given a reason for their arrest.
However, pictures of the French soldiers, their U.N. identifications and their military equipment have flooded social media accounts across Africa, along with a message accusing France of attempting to assassinate Touadera.
A Central African website known for its ties with Russian interests in Bangui was among the sites posting the allegations.
The French Embassy in Bangui and the U.N. mission in the C.A.R. condemned what they called a “misinformation campaign.”
The U.N. statement said: “MINUSCA regrets this incident and condemns it’s instrumentalization on social media in an attempt to manipulate public opinion. It firmly rejects the accusations of attack against state security.”
C.A.R. authorities have refused to comment on the incident.