Kidnappers free Catholic priest and four others in Mali

The flag of Mali The flag of Mali./ Railway fx via Shutterstock.

Kidnappers freed a Catholic priest and four other people on Wednesday in the West African nation of Mali.

Gunmen released Fr. Léon Douyon on June 23, 72 hours after seizing him, reported the French public radio service RFI.

The five kidnap victims were dropped off at the roadside between Bankass and Bandiagara, in the village of Parou within the Diocese of Mopti.

All five are said to be in good health, reported ACI Africa, CNA’s African news partner.

Major Abass Dembélé, the governor of the Mopti region, central Mali, said that the five were freed after the kidnappers’ vehicle broke down not far from Mali’s border with Burkina Faso.

“The kidnappers therefore decided to abandon the vehicle somewhere in the bush and, thanks to the mediation of local Dogon and Fulani notables, they agreed to free their five hostages, who had become very cumbersome,” he was quoted as saying.

Douyon, a priest of the Diocese of Mopti, was abducted by gunmen on June 21.

Fr. Alexis Dembélé, a Malian priest, said June 22 that “the group disappeared on Monday while traveling from Ségué in the center of the country, to the funeral of Fr. Oscar Thera in the town of San.”

He continued: “The poor road network requires one to go up north and then back down to the south to the town of San.”

The group was seized about 20 miles north of Ségué, in the vicinity of Ouo.

“The group was made up of Fr. Léon Douyon, the parish priest of Ségué, Thimothé Somboro, the village chief of Ségué, Pascal Somboro, deputy mayor, and two other members of the community, Emmanuel Somboro and Boutié Tolofoudié,” Dembélé said.

Mali, a country with a population of 19.66 million people has experienced a surge in violence involving both civilians and the military since 2012.

Kidnappings have become common, with militants seeking either to obtain ransom money or exert political pressure.

The country has seen clashes between the Malian army and a group fighting for independence, as well as jihadist insurgencies led by groups linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Mali has also suffered inter-communal violence. The fighting has left thousands dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.

The violence has spread to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.

Sr. Gloria Cecilia Narváez Argoti, a member of the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary Immaculate who was kidnapped in southern Mali in 2017, is believed to be in the hands of jihadists linked to al-Qaeda.

Mali is currently under the leadership of Colonel Assimi Goïta who has led two coups in a span of nine months, first ousting the country’s elected President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta last August and, in May, the interim leaders who were to head the country’s transitional government.

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Following the May 24 coup, Mali’s constitutional court named Goïta as transitional president until the country holds elections.

The move has attracted criticism, with Catholic leaders calling it a “seizure of power outside the legal process.”

A version of this story was first published by ACI Africa, CNA's African news partner, written by Jude Atemanke. It has been adapted by CNA.

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