Mali gunmen release kidnapped Swiss woman

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Gunmen in Mali’s rebel-held north released a Swiss woman who had been abducted in the desert town of Timbuktu on April 15, witnesses and the Swiss government said.

The woman, Beatrice Stockly, was released some seven km(4 miles) north of Timbuktu by members of Islamist group Ansar Dine, the witnesses said.
“She was wearing a black veil and made no statement when she was released,” one of the witnesses, Cherif Moulaye, told Reuters by telephone. He said she was put into a helicopter containing the head of Burkina Faso’s armed forces, Brigadier General Gilbert Dindere, Reuters reports.

The Swiss foreign ministry issued a statement confirming a woman kidnapped on April 15 in Timbuktu had been released, adding she was now in a safe place and in good health.

Residents said Stockly was a missionary who had lived in Timbuktu, and old Sahara trading town and a seat of Islamic learning, for a number of years and spoke several local languages.

A mix of Tuareg separatists and Islamist rebels captured Timbuktu on April 1 in the final leg of their lightning advance southwards through Mali’s desert north, as government forces retreated in the aftermath of a coup in the capital.

Seven Algerian diplomats have also been kidnapped in northern Mali since the rebels took the territory but Algeria’s foreign ministry said this week it sees a “real prospect” that the diplomats would be freed.

In the days leading to Timbuktu’s capture, most resident Westerners had left due to fears of being kidnapped and passed on to al Qaeda cells operating in the area.

AQIM, al Qaeda’s north African wing, is already holding several Western hostages and has earned millions of dollars from ransom payments from previous kidnappings.

Mali, once a poster child of African democracy, has fallen swiftly into chaos since the northern rebellion and a military overthrow last month that toppled President Amadou Toumani Toure.