BANGUI, Central African Republic – Authorities in the Central African Republic said that rebels had released the foreigners they were holding after attacking a French uranium exploration site, even though officials with the company in France denied that the expatriates had ever been kidnapped.
A military official in Bakouma, where the site is, said that a plane was sent to pick up five French nationals and two locals to take them to the capital, Bangui.
Rebels on Sunday attacked the exploration site in Bakouma, operated by French company Areva.
A resident in Bakouma said Tuesday that hundreds of rebels attacked the site on Sunday and took computers and looted houses. The resident, who would not give his name for security reasons, said there were not enough soldiers to fight the rebels. The resident said the rebels were a part of the Lord's Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony, who is thought to be in the country. But others said the rebels were part of a group from Chad.
Bakouma lawmaker Alima Diarra said the rebels seized five French nationals and two locals. But there are conflicting reports over whether the seven were hostages.
Areva spokeswoman Pauline Briand said that no one was kidnapped in the incident on Sunday.
"Several people came to pillage our site," she told The Associated Press. She described the site as a "uranium exploration site" and not yet a full-blown mine. There were 15 Areva employees at the site who are being transferred to Bangui, she said.
"No one was injured," she said. "There was no kidnapping." Briand said that the zone has been secured.
A French official said "there are no French people held hostage." The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the "situation has been restored in Bakouma."
He said the French government is hearing conflicting information about who was involved — rebels from Uganda, or Chad, or local looters. He said five French people were on the Areva site and are now "en route for Bangui".
He said French authorities are talking with local authorities and Areva about what to do next.
Associated Press writer Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.