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French army rescues four hostages in Sahel, two soldiers killed in operation

Daphné Benoit, AFP | A French helicopter Puma sits at a FAMa (Malian Armed Forces) base next to a flying Caiman helicopter on March 27, 2019.

During the rescue operation to free four hostages in Burkina Faso, two French soldiers were killed. Many had given up hope as each day passed by, but the two French tourists kidnapped on May 1 along with the American and South Korean are now safe.

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The liberation of the hostages, including French citizens Patrick Picque and Laurent Lassimouillas, “was made possible by a military operation led by French forces overnight from Thursday to Friday in northern Burkina Faso," the Élysée Palace said in a statement.

"During the operation two soldiers were killed in action, Cédric de Pierrepont and Alain Bertoncello, both officers under the command of special operations," the presidency also reported.

Pierrepont and Bertoncello were decorated naval Special Forces soldiers and part of the "Task Force Sabre" unit based in Burkina Faso.

Soldiers “gave their lives to save our citizens”

President Emmanuel Macron “congratulates the French armed forces for the liberation of the hostages, and everyone who worked alongside them." Macron underscored France’s pride and sadness at the sacrifice of “our two soldiers who gave their lives to save those of our citizens."

American military had provided intelligence to aid the rescue mission

The French tourists, a jewellery seller and a piano teacher and orchestra conductor based in the Paris region aged 51 and 46, went missing with their wildlife guide on the last leg of their holiday in usually peaceful Benin.

The identity of the American and South Korean hostages was not immediately known, but they were both said to be women, according to a statement from the French presidency.

The two hostages are expected to travel back to France this weekend, probably on Saturday.

"We'll travel up to Paris to welcome them off the plane," Jean-Claude Picque, the father of hostage Patrick Picque, told AFP from his home in northern France.

Four of the kidnappers were also killed during the rescue operation.

The location of the raid indicated that the French tourists had been kidnapped in Benin and taken over the nearby border into Burkina Faso, where Islamist terror groups have stepped up attacks in recent months.

Feared the worst

French authorities feared the worst when the body of their Benin tour guide was found in Pendjari National Park. The four-wheel drive Toyota they were in was found incinerated, hundreds of miles away "without its occupants", a security source told AFP.

The location of the raid indicated that the French tourists had been kidnapped in Benin and taken over the nearby border into Burkina Faso, where Islamist terror groups have stepped up attacks in recent months.

Pendjari is one of the largest remaining conservation regions for elephants and lions in West Africa, according to a park official. It is a vast area of 4,800 square kilometres (1,850 square miles) but part of a far larger wilderness area spreading into Burkina Faso and Niger to the north.

The reserve lies close to the porous border with Burkina Faso

Benin is considered an island of stability in West Africa, a troubled region where many jihadist groups operate, but Pendjari lies on the porous and remote border with Burkina Faso, which has been hard hit by militant violence.

A total of 24 French soldiers from the Barkhane force have died in the region since 2013 when France intervened in Mali to drive back jihadist groups who had taken control of the north of the country.

The last death was announced on April 2 when a military doctor was killed in Mali when his armoured vehicle hit an improvised explosive device during an operation near the border with Burkina Faso.

Read also: Benin tour guides mourn colleague, express fears for missing French tourists

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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