French special forces have freed four foreign hostages in northern Burkina Faso in a military raid that cost the lives of two soldiers.
Those freed in the overnight raid on Friday included two French tourists, an American woman and a South Korean woman, the French presidency said in a statement. All four were safe, it added.
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President Emmanuel Macron congratulated the French armed forces for freeing the hostages and expressed condolences for the soldiers killed in the operation, saying he “bows with emotion and solemnity before the sacrifice of our two soldiers”.
In a separate statement, Defence Minister Florence Parly thanked authorities in Burkina Faso and neighbouring Benin for their help with the “complex operation”, as well as the United States for its “precious support” in the operation.
Four kidnappers were killed in the raid, the French army said, adding that the US military had provided intelligence.
The French statements did not indicate who was holding the hostages.
Roch Kabore, Burkina Faso’s president, hailed the captives’ release and offered condolences to the soldiers’ families. “The joint military intervention that allowed us to achieve these results shows our common engagement in fighting against the forces of evil,” he said in a Facebook post.
The operation was ordered to free the French hostages, identified as Patrick Picque and Laurent Lassimouillas, who were kidnapped while on safari in Benin.
The pair failed to return from holiday in the remote Pendjari National Park wildlife reserve in Benin on May 1.
Their guide’s body was found on Sunday, riddled with bullets, and the car that he and the tourists used was found burned out across the border in Burkina Faso.
The two men, a music teacher and a shopkeeper working in the Paris region, are expected to travel back to France this weekend.
“We’ll travel up to Paris to welcome them off the plane,” Jean-Claude Picque, the father of one of the hostages, told the AFP news agency.
“They told us that hostage-takings can be very long, but in the end, it worked out ok, but not for the soldiers,” he said.
The identities of the American and South Korean women were not known. Parly, France’s defence minister, said the special forces “were not aware of their presence” when the operation began.
“The contacts we have had in recent hours with the United States and South Korea indicate that these countries were probably not aware of the presence of their nationals on Burkina territory,” she explained.
South Korea’s ambassador to Paris was unable to comment on the identity of the freed Korean national. The US thanked French special forces for its role in releasing the US hostage, but gave no details on her identity.
The French government has warned its citizens against travelling to parts of Benin near the Burkina Faso border because of the risk of kidnapping.
Swathes of northern and eastern Burkina Faso have been overrun by armed groups linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, or ISIS), leaving the government struggling to assert authority and forcing over 100,000 residents to flee.
In February, Burkina Faso said armed groups were increasingly active in West Africa and instability in the Sahel was spreading to coastal countries such as Benin and Ivory Coast.
But the so-called G5 force has been hobbled by delays in disbursing the money and poor coordination between the five countries, while insecurity has escalated in the border region between Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.