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France ‘deeply concerned’ over health of Mali hostage

Paris, France | AFP | The French government said Wednesday that it was “deeply concerned” over Sophie Petronin, a 73-year-old hostage in Mali, after a new video in which her kidnappers say her health has deteriorated.

A seven-minute video of the charity worker released in June had already showed her appearing weak and emaciated as she urged French President Emmanuel Macron to help her.

This month, her kidnappers released a new video which only shows her in a photo, heightening concern among French officials nearly two years after she was taken hostage.

“It is with deep concern that we were made aware of a statement published on November 11 by the kidnappers of Sophie Petronin,” said foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll.

“We are taking seriously their claim that the health of our compatriot has deteriorated.”

She called for Petronin’s “immediate release for clear humanitarian reasons”, adding that France would “continue to act with determination and commitment to find her as quickly as possible”.

Petronin’s son Sebastien Chadaud-Petronin has said he fears for his mother’s life following the release of the new video.

“It’s only a message from the people who are holding her — you see her photo pasted onto the screen, and she is bedridden,” he said.

Petronin was running a charity helping orphans when she was kidnapped by armed men in Gao, northern Mali, in December 2016.

No group claimed responsibility for kidnapping until July 2017, when Al-Qaeda’s Mali branch released a video showing her.

Mali has been struggling to return to stability after Islamist extremists took control of the north in early 2012, prompting a military intervention by France.

The north remains wracked by violence, with three civilians killed in a suicide car bombing in a residential area of Gao on Monday.

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