France has activated its foreign ministry crisis center after seven Catholic clergy – five of them Haitian and two French – were abducted in Haiti and the kidnappers demanded a million-dollar ransom.
The statement came as the French Bishops’ Conference and other French clergy expressed “their deep concern” and urged “the kidnappers to free the men and women of peace they have kidnapped and not to add more hatred where there is already poverty and insecurity”.
The five priests and two nuns were abducted on Sunday morning in Croix-des-Bouquets, a town north-east of the capital, Port-au-Prince, while they were “on their way to the installation of a new parish priest”, Father Loudger Mazile, the spokesman of the Bishop’s Conference for the island nation, told AFP.
The kidnappers had demanded a $1m ransom for the group, which includes one French priest and one French nun, he added.
The Haitian Conference of Religious (CHR) said in a statement three other people had also been kidnapped at same time.
Authorities suspect an armed gang called “400 Mawozo” is behind the abduction, according to a police source.
The French embassy in Haiti did not respond to a request for comment.
Kidnappings for ransom have surged in recent months in Port-au-Prince and other provinces, reflecting the growing influence of armed gangs.
“The CHR expresses its deep sorrow, but also its anger at the subhuman situation through which we have been wading for more than a decade,” the religious group said in its statement.
“Not a day goes by without weeping and gnashing of teeth, yet the so-called leaders of this country, while clinging to power, are increasingly powerless.”
“This is too much. The time has come for these inhuman acts to stop,” said Bishop Pierre-André Dumas of Miragoane in south-western Haiti. “The church prays and stands in solidarity with all the victims of this heinous act,” he added.
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 on to 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 rise 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 7 February next year, but others claim it ended on 7 February this year.
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.