French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on July 8 called for the release of Malian opposition leader Soumaila Cisse (pictured), who has been held hostage by suspected Islamist militants since March.
“France expresses its outrage over Mr Soumaila Cisse’s situation. He is the opposition leader, he was candidate in the presidential election and he was taken hostage three months ago and we are strongly calling for his release,” Le Drian told the National Assembly when asked about Cisse.
Cisse and several members of his delegation were ambushed by unidentified gunmen in March on the campaign trail in the northern region of Timbuktu. His bodyguard was killed and two others wounded, Cisse’s Union for the Republic and Democracy (URD) said at the time.
Militants with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State stage frequent attacks on civilian and military targets in the area, but there was no claim of responsibility and no request for ransom has been received.
France, the former colonial ruler, has troops in Mali to counter the jihadist threat.
Cisse, 70, is Mali’s leading opposition figure and was finance minister from 1993 to 2000. He lost the 2013 and 2018 elections to President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
Mali’s government has said the military is trying to find the hostages. Mali has been in political turmoil since the disputed election in March.
“As participants to the Berlin process and in a renewed commitment to the Berlin conclusions, in this beginning of the Holy Month of Ramadan, we want to unite our voices to those of the UN Secretary-General Guterres and his Acting Special Representative for Libya, Stephanie Turco Williams, in their call for a humanitarian truce in Libya” reads the text of the joint statement of the EU top diplomat Josep Borrell, and foreign ministers of Germany, France, and Italy.
“The conflict continues unabated and developments during the latest weeks have increased concerns, in particular over the situation among the long suffering Libyan population. We call on all the Libyan actors to get inspired by the spirit of the Holy Ramadan, engage in resuming talks for a genuine ceasefire on the basis of the draft agreement of the Military Committee of 23 February, and in view of a political solution to the conflict, and unite their efforts to face the common enemy which the current pandemic risks represent in the interest of the whole country.
“Ramadan kareem to all Libyans”.
France hopes the United States will not diminish support for French military operations in West Africa, where jihadist groups affiliated with Islamic State and Al-Qaeda are increasing their activities.
Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian made the appeal as Defence Minister Florence Parly was due to meet U.S. counterparts on January 27 to discuss the crisis in the Sahel.
Last year the Pentagon announced plans to withdraw hundreds of military personnel from Africa as it redirects resources to address challenges from China and Russia after two decades focused on counter-terrorism operations. Those changes are following an ongoing global troop review spearheaded by Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
The possibility has alarmed France, which relies on U.S. intelligence and logistics for its 4,500-strong troops in the Sahel.
“I hope they will be rational to keep this partnership … and that good sense will prevail,” le Drian told reporters.
The U.S. currently has 6,000 military personnel in Africa. Although some experts say a re-positioning of forces is overdue, many U.S. politicians and experts share French concerns about jihad spreading in Sahel region.
Italy and France have intensified efforts to end conflict in Libya, Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi said after meeting his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian in Rome on April 19.
“Naturally we talked about the situation in Libya, which is worrying and holds the attention of both our governments,” Moavero explained at a joint press conference with Le Drian. “Our position, an absolutely joint one, is that a ceasefire must be achieved as soon as possible”.
Le Drian underlined that cease-fire and return to negociations are paramount.