France deplores ex-hostage Sophie Pétronin’s ‘irresponsible’ return to Mali

French aid worker Sophie Pétronin, who was freed in 2020 after being held for four years by jihadist militants in Mali, is once again missing in the West African nation, FRANCE 24 sister station Radio France Internationale (RFI) reported Tuesday. 

French hostage Sophie Petronin was released by jihadists in October 2020 under a prisoner swap.
French hostage Sophie Petronin was released by jihadists in October 2020 under a prisoner swap. © AFP/File, Stringer

Pétronin, 76, who ran a charity for malnourished and orphaned children in the desert city of Gao until her abduction in 2016, discreetly returned to Mali in March, RFI reported

Pétronin was reportedly unhappy in Switzerland, where she had been living since her release in October 2020, and wanted to return to the country where she had spent 20 years of her life. Sources close to the family told RFI that she was also eager to be reunited with her adopted daughter. 

French government spokesman Gabriel Attal called Pétronin’s decision to return to Mali "a form of irresponsibility". He told reporters that the former aid worker was compromising her own security as well as that of France's military personnel.

"When our citizens are taken hostage abroad our soldiers go to save them, risking their lives," Attal said.

"Some of our soldiers have died in operations to save hostages who were taken in foreign countries," he added, calling for more "respect for our soldiers".

Crossing border into Mali

Mali refused to issue Pétronin a visa for her return but she eventually managed to enter the country by taking an overland route from Senegal, according to RFI. 

Pétronin had always said she planned to return to Mali to continue her work. 

The Malian police issued a wanted notice for Pétronin on October 2, asking police to apprehend her and to "escort" her to the capital, Bamako. 

Pétronin was reportedly last seen near Sikasso in the southeast of the country, more than 350km from the capital Bamako.

But sources close to Pétronin told RFI that she hadn't left Bamako since her return to Mali and had never been to Sikasso. They say they are mystified as to why Malian authorities are searching for her.

French diplomatic sources have said they are not interpreting the wanted notice as a "hostile act" from the Malian authorities, despite recent tensions with France. 

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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