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MALI

Concerns mount for French hostage as Mali peace deal under scrutiny

A portrait of Sophie Pétronin on a building at les Invalides in Paris
A portrait of Sophie Pétronin on a building at les Invalides in Paris JACQUES DEMARTHON / AFP

The French government is "deeply concerned" for the well-being of Sophie Petronin, a 73-year-old hostage in Mali, after a new video in which her kidnappers say her health has deteriorated.

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A seven-minute video of the charity worker released in June had already showed her appearing weak and emaciated as she urged French President Emmanuel Macron to help her.

This month her kidnappers released a new video which only shows her in a photo, heightening concern among French officials.

French foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll called for Petronin's "immediate release for clear humanitarian reasons" adding that France would "continue to act with determination and commitment to find her as quickly as possible".

"We are taking seriously their claim that the health of our compatriot has deteriorated," she said.

Petronin was running a charity helping orphans when she was kidnapped.

Al-Qaeda's Mali branch claimed responsibility for the kidnapping in July 2017.

French, German delegations visit

Mali has been struggling to return to stability after armed Islamists and Tuareg separatists took control of the north in early 2012, prompting a military intervention by France.

French and German defence delegations were in Gao on Tuesday this week to discuss Mali's troubled peace accord and plans to set up a five-nation anti-terror force in the vast Sahel region.

Their visit came as Malian civilians were killed and around 30 people wounded in a suicide attack in Gao late on Monday when a 4x4 vehicle blew up in a residential area.

The Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) said the attack had targeted "invading crusader forces" in central Gao in an area "where there are British, German and Canadian troops".

"The attack last night in Gao was despicable. Once again it is civilians who have paid for this violence with their lives," said French Defence Minister Florence Parly, echoing remarks by German counterpart Ursula von der Leyen.

Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger joined Chad and Mauritania to set up the G5 Sahel force in 2015 but lack of funding and shortfalls in equipment and training have led to delays in getting operations fully up and running.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday called for a comprehensive support package for the Sahel force by setting up a UN office similar to the one operated by the UN in Somalia.

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