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France - Mali

Mali confirms Al-Qaeda prisoners exchanged for French hostage Lazarevic

Serge Lazarevic (L) is greeted by French President François Hollande on his return to France this week
Serge Lazarevic (L) is greeted by French President François Hollande on his return to France this week Reuters/Jacky Naegelen

Mali admitted on Friday that Al-Qaeda prisoners were freed in exchange for French hostage Serge Lazarevic, confirming reports on RFI earlier in the week. The French defence minister has refused to comment on links between the two.

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Mali’s Justice Minister Mohamed Ali Bathily said on Friday that four prisoners were freed in exchange for the release of Serge Lazarevic, the French hostage kidnapped by armed Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in Mali three years ago.

"It's a fact, everyone knows, there is no need to deny reality," Bathily told France 24 TV.

As Lazarevic was heading for home anonymous Malian security sources told RFI and the AFP news agency that Bamako had freed several Al Qaeda prisoners "on request from Paris", sparking anger in Mali.

Dossier: War in Mali

A regional security source in Bamako also told AFP that a ransom was also paid.

The French government has refused to comment on reports that several Al-Qaeda prisoners, including those involved in kidnapping Lazarevic in Mali in 2011, were released in exchange for his freedom.

Earlier on Friday French Defence Minister Yves Le Drian, speaking to RFI, Le Monde and TV5 Monde declined to confirm or deny that there had been any deal.

Asked whether he understood that people in Mali were concerned to see jihadists released, Le Drian said he thought Malian citizens were conscious of the role France was playing for all of Mali and “applauded” French soldiers’ role in defeating the Islamist insurgency that took control of the north of the country at the beginning fo the year.
 

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