South African hostage still alive
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.