Mali has freed more than 100 suspected or convicted jihadists as part of negotiations for the release of a prominent Malian politician and a kidnapped French charity worker, sources close to the talks said Monday.
“As part of the negotiations to obtain the release of Soumaila Cisse and Sophie Petronin, more than one hundred jihadist prisoners were released this weekend,” one of those in charge of the negotiations, who asked not to be named, told AFP.
An official at the security services confirmed the information.
The prisoners were released in the central region of Niono and in Tessalit in the north after arriving by plane, the official said.
A lawmaker in Tessalit, who also requested anonymity, confirmed to AFP that “large numbers of jihadist prisoners” arrived there on Sunday.
Sophie Petronin, a French charity worker, was abducted by gunmen on December 24, 2016, in the northern city of Gao.
The last video in which she appeared was received in June 2018. She appeared tired and emaciated and appealed to French President Emmanuel Macron. In another video, in November 2018, in which she did not appear, her kidnappers said her health had deteriorated.
Soumaila Cisse is a former opposition leader and three-time presidential candidate. He was seized on March 25 while campaigning in his home region of Niafounke ahead of legislative elections.
Mali, supported by France and UN peacekeepers, is struggling with an eight-year-old Islamist insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives.
A military junta overthrew president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in August, before taking over leadership of the West African nation