A Haitian gang infamous for kidnappings for ransom has seized at least 17 people from a tourist bus they were travelling in.
Eight of the passengers were reportedly Turkish nationals, the remaining eight were Haitian and the driver was from the Dominican Republic.
They were kidnapped in the same area outside the capital, Port-au-Prince, in which a Dominican diplomat was abducted last month.
The diplomat was freed after four days.
Dominican newspaper, El Día, described the Turkish nationals as “missionaries” who had crossed into Haiti from neighbouring Dominican Republic.
But the Turkish consul in Haiti said they were “with an organisation promoting education”.
Haitian media said they were seized in Croix-des Bouquets, the stronghold of the 400 Mawozo gang.
Kidnappings for ransom have surged in Haiti in the past two years.
More than 1,200 people, 81 of them foreign nationals, were abducted last year, according to Haiti’s Centre for Analysis and Research on Human Rights.
Among the foreigners kidnapped last year were 17 Christian missionaries from the US and Canada. The 400 Mawozo gang demanded $1m (£800,000) for the release of each of them.
The missionaries were eventually freed after four months in captivity, but it was not clear if any ransom payments were made.
But while the kidnappings of foreigners have shone a spotlight on the power of Haiti’s gangs, it was Haitians themselves who were feeling the brunt of the violence.
United Nations children’s agency, UNICEF, warned last week that half a million children have lost access to education after 1,700 schools closed in the capital and the surrounding area due to gang shoot-outs.
“No child can go to school while bullets are flying in the air,” UNICEF’s representative in Haiti, Bruno Maes, said.
The spike in violence follows the assassination by mercenaries of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021 as rival factions fought to gain control of the country in the face of a struggling police force. -BBC