Four French soldiers were on Monday arrested in Bangui amid social media claims of "assassination attempt" on Central African Republic President Faustin Archange Touadéra.
The soldiers are members of the close protection team of General Stéphane Marchenoir, Chief of Staff of the UN Mission in the Central African Republic (Minusca).
The French Embassy said the soldiers were intercepted at Bangui Airport and were still being held on Tuesday by the Central African Gendarmerie— a military component charged with maintaining internal security throughout all rural districts.
The arrests come amid souring of ties between France and its former colony, with the fallout being fuelled by a fierce battle for influence between Paris and Moscow.
France claims CAR has been aiding an anti-French campaign orchestrated by Moscow on social and mainstream media outlets, and accuses the Russian private security company Wagner of human rights violations and looting Bangui’s natural resources.
Monday allegations of an assassination attempt on President Touadéra were rejected by both France and the UN mission.
Minusca said it "deeply regrets this incident,” referring to the arrests.
“[Minusca] condemns its immediate instrumentalisation on certain malicious networks and the gross disinformation to which it gives rise," wrote the French diplomatic representation in Bangui.
The soldiers were arrested as they escorted General Marchenoir, who was due to fly to Paris.
“They were at the airport to escort the general, at the time when President Touadéra’s plane landed,” the AFP reported, quoting a source in Paris.
“Without particular reasons, they were arrested by the Central African gendarmerie while they were near the airport and charges relating to an attempted attack were made via social networks.”
The Central African Republic, rocked by armed conflicts since 2013, is in the middle of a war of influence between Russia and France.
Faced with a Central African army in disarray, President Touadéra had turned to Russia for training.
The local army faces pockets of resistance from a coalition led by former President François Bozizé.
The Central African Republic has a 15,000-strong peacekeeping force and the local army has been under an arms embargo for nearly 10 years.