Two International Red Cross workers kidnapped in Mali
Two workers with the International Committee of the Red Cross were kidnapped in northern Mali on Saturday, the organisation said, the latest abduction in the troubled West African country.
Kidnappings are common in Mali, which has been battling a security and political crisis since jihadist and separatist insurgencies broke out in the north of the country in 2012.
Jihadists affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group have escalated their operations into central Mali and neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso.
Thousands of civilians, police and troops have been killed across the region, and more than two million have fled their homes.
"We confirm the kidnapping of two of our colleagues this morning", the ICRC said, adding that the incident took place between Gao and Kidal in the north of the country.
The ICRC, which has been in the country for 32 years, reiterated that it is "neutral, independent and impartial", and asked that no speculations be made about the incident "so as not to hinder its resolution".
"The ICRC deplores (the incident) and demands the release of its collaborators," Aminata Alassane, a public relations officer with ICRC, told AFP.
The agency's recently appointed director of operations, Martin Schuepp, visited Mali last year, saying "crime is rife" in the country, which posed a security challenge for the group.
"In spite of all that, we're doing everything we can to reach those in distress, including in the remotest areas of the country."
Insecurity has grown in northern Mali in recent months, with Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maiga cutting short a visit to the region in February due to security threats.
Mali is ruled by a junta that last year forced France to remove troops deployed there a decade ago on an anti-jihadist mission.
In the absence of French troops, the junta has brought in Russia's Wagner group to boost government forces.
Last month, the EU slapped sanctions on the head of Wagner's forces in Mali, saying they "have been involved in acts of violence and multiple human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings".
With government control weak in some parts of the country, kidnappings have become common, with motives ranging from ransom demands to acts of reprisal.
In February, a World Health Organization doctor who had been abducted in Mali in late January was freed.
In May, armed men kidnapped three Italians and a Togolese national in a southeastern area of the country.
Unrest has spread beyond Mali into neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.
In Burkina Faso, an American nun was kidnapped by jihadists last April and released in August.
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