BANGUI - Gunmen have attacked a uranium plant operated by French nuclear power giant Areva at Bakouma in the southeast of the Central African Republic, army and French diplomatic sources said Monday. "A violent clash yesterday (Sunday) afternoon pitted" Central African troops against "an unidentified group of armed men attempting to launch an assault on the site of mining company Areva," a military statement read on national radio said. "The enemy did some material damage and pulled back while taking a sizeable quantity mainly of food with them," Lieutenant-Colonel Jean Ladawa said in the statement.
"For the moment, it's difficult to establish a casualty toll from the fighting. However, we sustained no losses either among personnel or the population at Bakouma," he said.
"Measures are being prepared in consultation with the French side, which joined the Central African side in the management of this situation," the military spokesman added.
A French diplomatic source told AFP that five French Areva staffers at the uranium mine were in contact with French authorities to find "the most suitable solution" for them.
The Areva group issued no immediate statement regarding the attack.
In November 2011, the company pushed back by one or two years its schedule to mine at Bakouma, after uranium prices fell in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.
About 170 people were then working at the Bakouma site.
With an estimated 32,000 tonnes of uranium to be mined, the site is considered important by Areva, even if it does not match the 180,000 tonnes of the giant Imouraren mine in Niger.
In spite of a peace process launched in 2008 which has led to accords with most of the rebel groups in the country who have laid down their arms, the Central African Republic is still prey to armed groups including rebels, highway robbers and poachers.
Ugandan rebels of Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army are active, like members of the Chadian group, the Popular Front for Recovery, led by Baba Ladde.