RFI honours colleagues as slain journalists come home
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RFI observed a moment of silence Tuesday to honour journalists Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon, who were kidnapped and killed in Mali on Saturday. President François Hollande greeted the plane carrying their coffins at a Paris airport before dawn.
The coffins of Radio France Internationale (RFI) journalists Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon, who were kidnapped and killed in Mali on Saturday, arrived before dawn on Tuesday at a Paris airport, where French President François Hollande was in attendance.
Dupont, 57, and Verlon, 55, were kidnapped in the northern Malian town of Kidal on Saturday and “assassinated in cold blood”, according to French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. Their bodies were discovered 12 kilometres east of Kidal.
Hollande, Fabius and other ministers attended a private memorial with the families of the slain journalists at the airport before the bodies are taken to the Institut Médico-Légal de Paris for autopsies. The bodies will be returned to their families later Tuesday.
Marie-Christine Saragosse, CEO of France Media Monde – the parent company of RFI, FRANCE 24 and Monte-Carlo Doualiya (MCD) – accompanied the bodies on the flight from the Malian capital of Bamako.
Speaking at the private ceremony on Tuesday, Saragosse described the trip from Bamako to Paris as an emotionally wrenching journey. “It was very difficult from Bamako. We were in the same plane with them – and without them – and suddenly, when you’re confronted with the grief of their families, things stop being theoretical,” said Saragosse.
Dupont and Verlon had just finished an interview with an official from the Tuareg group, the MNLA, in Kidal when they were kidnapped outside his house on Saturday.
Details of the kidnapping and brutal murder of the journalists have not been released but on Monday, around 10 suspects were arrested in the Kidal area, according to RFI correspondent Serge Daniel, reporting from Bamako.
RFI, FRANCE 24 and MCD observed a moment of silence Tuesday to honour their slain colleagues.
French lawmakers also observed a moment of silence for the two at the National Assembly in Paris. Assembly President Claude Bartolone said “all of France has been shocked by this barbaric terrorist act,” which was an “unacceptable attack on freedom of information.”
France sends additional troops to Kidal
Saturday’s attack in broad daylight has shocked France and highlighted the precarious security situation in Kidal despite the presence of French and UN troops at a base not far from the scene of the kidnapping.
In an interview with RFI early Tuesday, Fabius said additional French troops had been dispatched to Kidal. “The order was issued last night for 150 [additional] soldiers to leave southern Mali to get to Kidal to strengthen security,” said Fabius. In addition, investigators had arrived from France and would cooperate with their Malian counterparts, said Fabius.
The UN peacekeeping force in Mali is eventually expected to comprise about 12,600 troops and police but Malian soldiers have nevertheless voiced concerns over a planned drawdown of French troops.
Paris was due to reduce its deployment of 3,000 troops to 1,000 by the end of January 2014, but government spokesman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem signalled that the decision might be reversed in light of the journalists' deaths.
Malian press honours slain colleagues
On Monday, hundreds of Malian reporters held a silent march through the streets of Bamako Monday to pay tribute to Dupont and Verlon.
Some of those marching carried signs, including one that read: "No one will succeed in killing the conscience of the world”.
Former colleagues and senior management from Radio France Internationale, where Dupont and Verlon worked, took part in the march, before later attending a ceremony at Bamako airport.
Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, also in attendance, paid tribute to Dupont and Verlon and posthumously decorated them with the Malian Order of Merit.
Speaking at the ceremony, Keita said he thought of Dupont, a correspondent with years of experience reporting on Africa, as his "own daughter".
Tuareg rebel groups announce merger
Keita’s election in July, just months after a French military operation ousted armed militias from northern Mali, was hailed as a “great success” by the international community.
But he faces several challenges in a country that has experienced decades of armed uprisings by Tuareg separatists. The last uprising, fuelled by the return of Tuareg mercenaries from Libya following the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, saw the northern half of the country fall to a motley mix of jihadist and Tuareg rebel groups.
On Monday, three main Tuareg rebel groups announced a merger to help create a united front in an ongoing peace process with the Malian government.
The merger of the MNLA with the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA) and the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA) will take effect in 45 days, according to officials from the three groups.
Announcing the merger in neighbouring Burkina Faso, a top MNLA leader said his group would cooperate in the investigation into the kidnapping and killing of the RFI journalists in MNLA stronghold of Kidal.
"We will invest fully in the search for the truth so that this mystery is resolved," said MNLA secretary general Bilal Ag Acherif.