ex-hostages Sophie Pétronin reunited with her son in Mali

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Sophie Pétronin, a French aid worker who was the last French hostage in the world, landed in the capital Bamako to have an emotional reunion with her son after being released along with a top Malian politician.

Mali announced the release of Frenchwoman Sophie Pétronin, 75, and Malian politician Soumaïla Cisséon on Thursday along with two Italian nationals.

French President Emmanuel Macron expressed “enormous relief” at the release of Petronin and tweeted on Friday that he would welcome her back to France.

Footage shared on social media showed a fragile, white-clad Petronin – who was the last French citizen held hostage in the world – down from a plane to an emotional greeting from his son in Bamako.

Cisse, dressed in a white cloak, followed her and was also embraced by loved ones before returning home to be greeted by jubilant crowds.

“It was a difficult period, but it has been overcome,” the 70-year-old told AFP.

“Deep down, I was sure I would return.”

Prisoner replacement

The news of the hostages’ release on Thursday came after the government released more than 100 prisoners over the weekend, sparking speculation about a prisoner exchange for Petronin and Cisse.

In an unexpected development, the Prime Minister’s Office also announced on Thursday that two Italian nationals, Nicola Chiacchio and Pier Luigi Maccalli, had been released.

It was not immediately clear if the two had arrived in Bamako on the same flight.

Petronin was abducted by gunmen on December 24, 2016, in the northern city of Gao, where she worked for a children’s charity.

Cisse, a former opposition leader and three-time presidential candidate, was kidnapped on March 25 during the campaign in his home region of Niafounke, central Mali, ahead of parliamentary elections.

Pastor Maccalli was abducted in neighboring Niger in 2018. Chiacchio disappeared in northern Mali last year while on a solo bike ride, according to Italian media.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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