Canadian, Italian freed in Mali 15 months after abduction

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DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — A Canadian woman and an Italian man who had been kidnapped in December 2018 in Burkina Faso have been released in good health, according to the United Nations peacekeeping mission in neighboring Mali.

Quebec resident Edith Blais and Italian Luca Tacchetto had been travelling by car in the southwest of Burkina Faso when all communication with their families abruptly ended on Dec. 15, 2018. Burkina Faso’s security situation had been deteriorating in the year before their abduction and has gotten increasingly worse in the past year. Al-Qaida and Islamic State-linked groups are active in Burkina Faso.

Mali’s U.N. peacekeeping spokesman Olivier Salgado told The Associated Press the two were brought to the MINUSMA based in Kidal in a civilian car on Friday. There they were taken in by the U.N. peacekeeping mission. On Saturday, the two flew to Bamako and have met with the head of MINUSMA, Mali’s president, other Malian authorities and the Canadian ambassador.

It is not known who kidnapped the two, if a ransom was paid or who arranged for the release.

Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs also confirmed that he spoke with Blais and Tacchetto, who are safe.

Jihadists groups in the past year have been pushing across Mali’s border into Burkina Faso, and are increasing attacks further east as they gain territory in the smaller West African nation. More than half a million people have been displaced by the violence and almost 2,000 more fatalities were reported last year than in 2018 — a six-fold increase — according to a report by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, which collects and analyzes conflict information.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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