Two Western hostages kidnapped in Burkina Faso have been freed, U.N. says

BAMAKO (Reuters) – A Canadian woman and an Italian man kidnapped in Burkina Faso 15 months ago have been freed and appear to be in good health, the United Nations’ peacekeeping mission in neighboring Mali said on Saturday.

Edith Blais and Luca Tacchetto went missing while traveling through Burkina Faso in December 2018. Jihadist groups with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State which are active in the region have kidnapped Westerners in the past.

It is not known who was responsible for the couple’s abduction or if any ransom was paid.

Olivier Salgado, a spokesman for the U.N. mission MINUSMA, told Reuters that the pair were found by peacekeepers near the northern Mali city of Kidal on Friday. They were flown to the capital Bamako on Saturday.

Salgado shared photos of a smiling Blais and Tacchetto wearing U.N. human rights t-shirts and sweatpants at the U.N. base in Kidal where they spent the night and later met the MINUSMA head.

Security has deteriorated in recent years across Africa’s Sahel region, a semi-arid band beneath the Sahara Desert, where hundreds of civilians were killed last year by the jihadists and ethnic militias.

Western powers like former colonial master France and the United States have poured money and troops to combat the jihadists, but the violence has continued to get worse.

According to Menastream, a risk consultancy that monitors jihadist activity, 10 foreign nationals from nine different countries, including France and Australia, are still being held in captivity in the region.

Canadian national Kirk Woodman was kidnapped in January 2019 from a mining site where he was working in Burkina Faso and found dead later the same week. While Islamic State claimed responsibility, security sources told Reuters they believed he actually died during a botched attempt by a criminal gang to sell him on to another group.

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