Son of Mali Hostage Still Awaiting News

Bamako, Oct 7 (AFP/APP): The son of a French aid worker taken hostage in Mali said on Wednesday he was still awaiting news about his mother after speculation intensified following the release of detained jihadists.

Hopes that 75-year-old Sophie Petronin and abducted Malian opposition leader Soumaila Cisse may soon be released surged at the weekend when security sources said Mali’s new government had freed scores of jihadists. However, Petronin’s son, Sebastien Chadaud, who flew to the Malian capital Bamako on Tuesday, said he had no information about this mother.

“Nothing yet”, he said in a brief message to AFP, adding that he did not know whether any release was underway or not. Petronin was abducted by gunmen on December 24, 2016, in the northern city of Gao, where she worked for a children’s charity. She is the last French national held hostage in the world.

Cisse, a 70-year-old former opposition leader and three-time presidential candidate, was kidnapped on March 25 while campaigning in his home region of Niafounke ahead of legislative elections. Anger at his abduction was a factor in a groundswell of protests against President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who was finally toppled by young army officers on August 18.

The junta has installed an interim president, Bah Ndaw, but made concessions to Mali’s neighbours demanding safeguards for a return to civilian rule. Ndaw’s government is led by a civilian, with military men in key ministerial positions. Under a “charter” endorsed by the junta, the transition period will last for a maximum of 18 months.

Petronin and Cisse are believed to be held by an armed Islamist group linked to Al-Qaeda. One of the world’s poorest and most unstable countries, Mali is in the grip of an eight-year-old jihadist insurgency that began in the north, spread to the ethnically volatile centre and advanced into Burkina Faso and Niger. Thousands of civilians and soldiers have been killed and hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes. The French and Malian governments have refused to comment on any exchange.

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