Four French soldiers arrested in the Central African Republic (CAR) on suspicion of planning to assassinate the country’s president have been released.
The arrest of the soldiers, members of the MINUSCA peacekeeping force in the CAR, had sparked condemnation from the UN.
“The 4 staff members of MINUSCA arrested at Bangui airport have just been released. The Mission extends sympathy to them,” Mankeur Ndiaye, the UN chief’s special envoy in CAR and head of the mission, said on Twitter.
“The United Nations will continue to ensure the protection of its assets and personnel in all circumstances,” he added.
The soldiers were apprehended at the airport in the capital Bangui on allegations of “undermining state security.”
They had accompanied Gen. Stephane Marchenior, a French officer heading the MINUSCA force, to the airport.
Marchenior was catching a flight out of CAR just before President Faustin Archange Touadera was due to return from a trip to Belgium.
The four soldiers were found in a “suspicious” vehicle with weapons, according to a report by the CAR public prosecutor’s office cited by local media outlets.
Their arrest came at a time of discord between France and the CAR over the presence of Russian paramilitaries in the African nation.
Allegations quickly circulated on social media in the CAR that the French soldiers were planning to assassinate Touadera.
Earlier, the prosecutor’s office said it had opened investigation against the soldiers on allegations of “an attempted coup and attempted assassination of the head of state.”
The soldiers have been freed a day after UN chief Antonio Guterres strongly condemned their arrest and demanded their unconditional release.
Guterres said members of the MINUSCA force members “enjoy privileges and immunities granted to them in the interest of the United Nations.”
The UN mission was deployed in the CAR in April 2014 and has about 15,000 personnel in the country.