China warns its nationals after killings in Central African Republic

Fourth plenary session of the National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing

BEIJING/BANGUI (Reuters) -China's embassy in the Central African Republic has urged its citizens to avoid travelling outside the capital Bangui after nine Chinese nationals were killed in an attack by militants at a gold mine outside the city.

The embassy said in a statement on Sunday there had been many "vicious" security incidents against workers of foreign mining enterprises in the area, and Chinese citizens still outside Bangui were requested to evacuate immediately.

Armed men killed nine Chinese nationals and wounded two more in an attack on a mine run by the Gold Coast Group, 25 km (15 miles) from the town of Bambari, its mayor told Reuters.

"It was yesterday morning around 5:00 a.m. (0300 GMT) that we heard weapons being fired. A little later we learned it was the Chinese mining site that was attacked," Abel Matchipata said on Monday.

He said the attackers were thought to be from the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC), an alliance of rebel groups formed ahead of the 2020 presidential election to oppose President Faustin-Archange Touadera.

The CPC in a statement denied responsibility and condemned the attack.

A patchwork of armed groups control swathes of territory and regularly commit abuses against the civilian population in Central African Republic, a country that has rarely known stability since independence in 1960.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for "severe punishment" of the perpetrators in accordance to the law, and said the safety of Chinese citizens must be ensured, the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement on Monday.

In view of the security risks, the Chinese embassy warned Chinese institutions and citizens not to travel outside Bangui and in case of emergency, to contact the embassy to seek consular protection.

The security risk level in the Central African Republic, apart from the capital, was "red", or very high, the Chinese foreign ministry added.

The ministry said it would work with governments and guide Chinese embassies and consulates to take further effective measures to fully safeguard Chinese citizens and enterprises in Africa.

There have been several attacks on Chinese nationals abroad in recent months, prompting embassies to issue warnings and safety alerts and conduct evacuations.

(Reporting by Bernard Orr; Additional reporting by Ryan Woo in Beijing and Judicael Yongo in Bangui; Editing by Robert Birsel, Jamie Freed, Nellie Peyton and Hugh Lawson)