Sahel hostages released

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A Canadian woman and an Italian man kidnapped while travelling through Burkina Faso 15 months ago have been freed and are in good health, the president of Mali said after meeting the pair.

Edith Blais and Luca Tacchetto, who went missing in December 2018, were found by peacekeeping troops near the northern Malian city Kidal on Friday, a spokesman for the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSMA said.

Jihadist groups with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State in the region kidnapped Westerners in the past, though it is not known who was responsible for the pair’s abduction or if a ransom was paid.

Blais and Tacchetto, who Canadian media reports said are both in their 30s, were flown to Bamako, where they met Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita at the presidential palace.

“It’s a joy,” Keita said, with Blais and Tacchetto  on either side of him at the palace.

“These young people you see next to me, magnificent, in great shape, beautiful after having lived through an ordeal we can only imagine. It’s by the grace of God,” Keita said.

Canadian Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne was “relieved” to confirm the two were free.

“The Government of Canada will continue to engage Mali and Burkina Faso at the highest levels and will work with international partners to pursue those responsible for this crime and bring them to justice,” he said in a statement.

Security deteriorated in recent years across Africa’s Sahel region where hundreds of civilians were killed last year by the jihadists and ethnic militias.

Western powers including former colonial master France and the United US continue to worsen.

According to Menastream, a risk consultancy monitoring jihadist activity, 10 foreign nationals from nine countries, including France and Australia, are still captive in the region.

Canadian national Kirk Woodman was kidnapped in January 2019 from a mining site in Burkina Faso and found dead later the same week.

While Islamic State claimed responsibility, security sources told Reuters they believed he died during a botched attempt by a criminal gang to sell him to another group.