Releases of this magnitude are very rare in Mali. Sophie Pétronin and Soumaïla Cissé, the two hostages whose release hangs in the balance according to these sources, are the last French hostage detained around the world for one and a political figure of national stature in Mali for the other. “As part of negotiations to obtain the release of Soumaïla Cissé and Sophie Pétronin, more than a hundred jihadist prisoners were released this weekend on Malian territory,” a mediation official told AFP. , on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter. An official of the Malian security services confirmed this information. The prisoners were released in the Niono sector (center) and in the Tessalit region (north), to where they were flown, he said. An elected official from Tessalit anonymously confirmed the arrival on Sunday by plane of “very many jihadist prisoners” and their release.
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The release of Sophie Pétronin and Soumaïla Cissé in question
Sophie Pétronin, 75 years old today, was kidnapped on December 24, 2016 by armed men in Gao (northern Mali), where she had lived and had headed a children’s aid organization for years. She appeared in videos released in 2017 and 2018 by the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM), linked to Al Qaeda. The last where we see her, published in mid-June 2018, shows her very tired, her face emaciated, calling French President Emmanuel Macron. Her relatives had indicated in March, after a meeting with the French authorities, that Paris had proof that she was still alive. His son, Sébastien Chadaud, remained very restrained in front of the few elements available. “We must be careful and remain very careful because, if there were really attempts, we must be careful not to hamper them,” he said. “It is too early to rejoice, we have already experienced moments like this for four years”, he insisted to AFP.
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Soumaïla Cissé, 70, former leader of the parliamentary opposition and second three times in the presidential election, was kidnapped on March 25, while he was on a legislative campaign in the region of Timbuktu (north- Where is). In the absence of formal proof, suspicion weighs on Amadou Koufa’s jihadist group, active in central Mali and affiliated with Al-Qaeda. It was an unprecedented kidnapping of a personality of this stature, even in a country where many kidnappings have been carried out with different motives. His fate was one of the rallying cries of the months-long protest against former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta. The latter ended up being overthrown by a putsch on August 18. The former president had long officially refused dialogue with the jihadists, before saying he was ready to break this dogma in February. However, previously unacknowledged contacts have existed for the release of hostages or the negotiation of a ceasefire.
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Continuation of discussions after the fall of IBK …
The military did not close the door to discussions. They state the release of Soumaïla Cissé as one of the objectives in the transition which is supposed to prelude the return of civilians to the head of the country within 18 months. No details were released on the prisoners released over the weekend. Tessalit, where many of them were released, is a field of implantation of the GSIM.
… in a country under pressure from various kinds of violence
Mali has been plunged into a deep security crisis since the separatist and jihadist insurgencies from the north in 2012. A peace agreement was signed with the separatists. But the actions of jihadist groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State organization have spread to central Mali, as well as to neighboring countries, despite the deployment of French and international forces.
Mali is also bloodied by intercommunal violence. They have caused thousands of military and civilian deaths. Two thirds of the territory escape the control of the central power. A Canadian and her Italian companion were released in March 15 months after their kidnapping in Burkina Faso, neighboring Mali. They had been recovered in good health in northern Mali without the conditions for their return to freedom having been clearly established. At least eight other Western hostages are said to remain in detention in the Sahel.