South African hostage still alive

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD - MEL FRYKBERG

SOUTH African hostage Stephen McGowan, kid­napped in Mali in 2011, is still alive, ac­cord­ing to a video re­leased at the week­end.

An al-Qaeda-linked group in Mali, Nus­rat Al Is­lam wal Mus­limeen, re­leased a video on Satur­day show­ing that McGowan, and five other for­eign hostages, are still alive, the Site In­tel­li­gence Group re­ported.

The video shows McGowan, Elliot Ken­neth Arthur of Aus­tralia, Iu­lian Ghergut of Ro­ma­nia, Beatrice Stockly of Switzer­land, Glo­ria Ce­cilia Nar­vaez of Colombia and So­phie Petronin of France.

Many of the for­eign hostages have been held for years.

The re­lease of the video came af­ter Swe­den’s gov­ern­ment an­nounced last week the free­ing of hostage Jo­han Gustafs­son, who was kid­napped along­side McGowan as they sat in a restau­rant in Tim­buktu.

How­ever, there was no com­ment from the Swedish for­eign min­istry on the fate of McGowan fol­low­ing Gustafs­son’s re­lease.

The South African has re­mained in cap­tiv­ity de­spite hu­man­i­tar­ian or­gan­i­sa­tion Gift of the Givers at­tempt­ing to ne­go­ti­ate with the mil­i­tants for his re­lease since June 2015.

Gift of the Givers chair­man Im­tiaz Sooli­man said the al-Qaedalinked group had de­manded mil­lions of rand for McGowan’s re­lease, a sum the group could not af­ford.

The re­lease of the hostage video also co­in­cided with French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron ar­riv­ing in Mali’s cap­i­tal, Ba­mako, on Sun­day to sup­port the launch of a new multi­na­tional force to com­bat mil­i­tants in the Sa­hel re­gion.

The force was formed by the G5 Sa­hel coun­tries Mali, Mau­ri­ta­nia, Burk­ina Faso, Niger and Chad, and is ex­pected to be op­er­a­tional in a few weeks. It will in­clude as many as 5 000 sol­diers, with one bat­tal­ion from each of the G5 coun­tries.

Macron told the sum­mit that France would con­trib­ute $9 mil­lion (R117m) to the new force, as well as con­tribut­ing 70 ve­hi­cles.

An­other $57m was pledged by the EU, while Paris is seek­ing ad­di­tional fund­ing from part­ners, in­clud­ing Ger­many and the US.

The new force will com­ple­ment the 12 000-strong UN peace­keep­ing mission in the re­gion, as well as the 5 000 French troops al­ready in Mali.

More than 100 UN sol­diers have died in re­cent months, mak­ing it the most deadly UN mission to date.


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