The Malian presidency on Thursday confirmed that French charity worker Sophie Pétronin, who was abducted in Mali and held hostage since December 2016, has been released.
“The Presidency of the Republic confirms the release of Soumaïla Cissé and Mrs Sophie Pétronin. The former hostages are on their way to Bamako, “the Malian presidency wrote on Twitter on Thursday.
French President Emmanuel Macron welcomed the news of Pétronin’s releases as well as Soumaïla Cissé– a prominent Malian politician abducted in Mali on March 25 – in a statement on Thursday.
“The President of the Republic has learned with immense relief the release of Mrs Jeannine ‘Sophie’ Pétronin, a French humanitarian worker who has been held hostage in Mali for almost four years,” the statement said.
Macron added that he was “particularly grateful to the Malian authorities” for their role in orchestrating the couple’s release and reaffirmed France’s commitment to support Mali in “its fight to continue terrorism in the Sahel”.
Macron later tweeted: “To [Pétronin’s]family and loved ones, I am sending a message of sympathy. “
Sophie Pétronin is free.
Retained in custody for 4 years in Mali, his release is a huge relief. To his family, to his neighbors, I send a message of sympathy. To the malicious authorities, thank you. The fight against terrorism in the Sahel continues.
– Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) October 8, 2020
Petronin’s release came days after Mali freed more than 100 suspected or convicted jihadists as part of negotiations for the release of both her and Cissé, sources close to the talks told AFP on Monday.
Mali’s government, however, gave no indication of the circumstances surrounding the release of the hostages, nor did it provide information on the health of either Pétronin or Cissé.
Armed men were abducted by Petronin – who led an orphaned organization in Mali – on December 24, 2016 in the northern city of Gao.
The aid worker, who has cancer and suffered from malaria at the time of her abduction, was last seen tired and emaciated in a video released by her captives in June 2018, in which she approached her son and appealed to Macron for help.
In another video in November 2018, her kidnappers said her health had further deteriorated.
Cissé is a former opposition leader and three-time presidential candidate. He was seized during the campaign in his home region of Niafounké ahead of the legislative election.
France’s foreign ministry had evidence from early March 2020 that Pétronin was alive, her son France Info told the radio.
“The ministry has spoken of an element of evidence dating from the beginning of March without giving details. It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing, ”Sébastien Chadaud-Pétronin told French television.
Arnaud Granouillac, a nephew of Pétronin, had appealed to Macron in the summer of 2018 “not to let [my] aunt dies over there ”and meets the family of the“ last French hostage held in the world ”at the Élysée Palace.
“You can not let anyone die like that,” Arnaud Granouillac told Agence France-Presse after launching the appeal on local television.
Granouillac said Pétronin had been “kept in the desert without treatment for more than 600 days”.
“Her health is deteriorating from one day to the next,” as her appearance illustrated in the June 2018 video, he said.
Granouillac suggested that the family make several requests to be received in the presidential palace without success. The family had only “informal contact” with the French Foreign Ministry. “But it is not moving forward… We know very well that Mr. Macron does not want to negotiate, but he must at least have the decency to say it to our face. “
“We will never abandon my aunt and my cousin will never abandon his mother and they must be aware of that,” Granouillac said.
Macron issued a statement on July 13, 2018, saying France was working tirelessly to locate Pétronin.
No groups originally claimed the abduction of the French woman. Then in July 2017, the largest jihadist alliance in the Sahel, a group linked to Qaida, released a video showing six foreigners kidnapped in Mali and Burkina Fasobet between 2011 and 2017 with Pétronin among them.
In 2012, Mali fell north under the control of jihadist groups linked to al Qaeda, which exploited an ethnic Tuareg-led insurgency, although the Islamists were largely thrown out of a French-led military operation that began in January 2013.
Since then, jihadists have continued to carry out numerous attacks on civilians and the army, as well as on French and UN forces stationed there. Although backed by French and UN forces, Mali is still battling an eight-year Islamic uprising that has claimed thousands of lives.
A military junta overthrew President Ibrahim Boubacar Keitain August before taking over the leadership of the West African nation.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)