BAMAKO: Two French radio journalists were found dead after being kidnapped by armed men in north Mali in what President Francois Hollande called a “despicable” act as he ordered an emergency ministers meeting for Sunday.
Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon of Radio France Internationale (RFI) had travelled on Saturday to the northern city of Kidal to interview a spokesman for the Tuareg separatist group the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), and were abducted outside his home, according to their employer.
RFI said MNLA spokesman Ambery Ag Rhissa said he heard commotion outside and “saw the kidnappers put the journalists into a beige 4X4.”
Men in turbans and speaking the Tuareg language of Tamashek “ordered Mr. Ag Rhissa to get back inside and forced the journalists’ driver to lie down,” RFI said, adding that he had heard Verlon and Dupont resist and protest at their abduction.
“This was the last time that the journalists were seen alive,” said Marie-Christine Saragosse, chief executive officer of France Media Monde, which owns RFI.
Hollande expressed “his indignation over this despicable act,” said a statement from his office.
The French leader, who sent troops to Mali in January to oust Islamist rebels from the north, has called a meeting of his ministers for Sunday to establish “jointly with Malian authorities and United Nations forces, the circumstances of the killings.”
Hollande and Malian leader Ibrahim Boubacar Keita spoke over the telephone, reaffirming their determination “to relentlessly pursue the fight against terrorist groups that are present in northern Mali,” the French president’s office said.
The UN Security Council members also “strongly condemned” the slaying of the journalists and “reiterated their full support” for the UN mission in Mali, a statement said.
The fatal kidnapping occurred just days after four Frenchmen held hostage in neighboring Niger were freed reportedly for a huge ransom, a claim France denied.
The exact circumstances of the journalists’ deaths are not yet known.
French army spokesman Col. Gilles Jaron said that French forces in Mali, alerted about the kidnapping, immediately sent out a patrol and two helicopters.
Dupont, 57, was an African affairs specialist who had spent 27 years covering the continent since joining RFI in 1986, including stints in Ethiopia, Sudan and 10 years in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
RFI said Verlon, 55, who had been at the station since 1982, was a seasoned journalist who was “used to difficult terrain across the world.”
A spokesman for European foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said there was “great sadness” on hearing news of the incident.
The spokesman added the deaths were a “heinous crime” which must not go “unpunished.”
The press group Reporters without Borders called the killings “an unspeakable and revolting act.”