CAR violence
French soldiers stand in front of protesters demonstrating against French troops in Bambari.Reuters

The militant group that kidnapped Central African Republic's sports minister has demanded its detained leader be released, according to the minister's spokesperson.

Armel Sayo was seized while driving his wife and brother back from church on Sunday, in the capital city of Bangui.

Those responsible were affiliated with the anti-balaka movement, according to Tatiana Yangeko, as cited by the BBC.

Sayo is the first government minister to be kidnapped since violence erupted in the country in 2013. The conflict has become increasingly brutal and has taken on a religious nature, as militias formed largely along Christian and Muslim lines.

Anti-balaka, which allegedly carried out Sayo's kidnapping, is a mainly Christian group formed in opposition to the Muslim dominated Seleka rebel group that overthrew the former president Francois Bozize in 2013.

While Seleka ceded power to a UN-supported transitional government in 2014, much of the country remains mired in lawlessness.

UN troops arrested the anti-balaka commander, Rodrigue Nagibona, earlier in January. He was wanted for alleged murder and rape, as well as on rebellion and looting charges.

Sayo's spokesperson said contact had been made between the kidnappers and the families, who demanded the release of commander Nagibona in return for Sayo's freedom.

The episode is the second high-profile kidnapping event in the Central African Republic this month, following the capture and release of a French aid worker, a Kurdish UN worker and a local colleague. Frenchwoman Claudia Priest returned to France on Sunday.

The conflict in CAR has led to thousands of deaths , while one million have fled their homes.