France condemns 'assassinations' of journalists in Mali

The journalists were interviewing a political leader before their abduction

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The deaths of two French journalists in northern Mali have been described by France's foreign minister as "cold and calculated assassinations".

Laurent Fabius said the journalists were killed on a desert track 12km (seven miles) east of Kidal. One received two bullets, the other three.

RFI's Claude Verlon, 58, and Ghislaine Dupont, 51, were abducted on Saturday after interviewing a local leader.

Mr Fabius called the killers "terrorist groups who reject democracy".

Kidal is at the epicentre of a political dispute between ethnic Tuareg nomads and the rest of the population of Mali, who are black Africans.

Mali timeline

Map
  • 2011: Tuareg fighters leave Libya after Gaddafi toppled and take up arms at home in Mali
  • March-April 2012: Separatist and Islamist groups seize control of northern Mali
  • Jan 2013: French-led forces oust rebels from towns
  • June 2013: Government and separatist rebels sign peace deal
  • July 2013: Elections held to reunite Mali

There are 200 French troops and 200 UN peacekeepers as well as a Malian army base in Kidal.

Radio France Internationale (RFI) said Mr Verlon and Ms Dupont were on their second assignment there, having travelled to the town in July to cover the first round of the presidential election.

Ambeiry Ag Rhissa, a local official of the MNLA ethnic Tuareg separatist group, said the pair had just left his house after interviewing him when they were kidnapped.

He said he did not see how many kidnappers were there, but other sources said four men forced the journalists into a beige truck which was then driven off into the surrounding desert.

The BBC's Mark Doyle says one detail given by the French foreign minister was that the car used for the kidnapping, found a just a few metres from the journalists' bodies, was locked.

Deaths of journalists

  • 42 journalists killed in 2013
  • 1,009 journalists killed since 1992
  • 596 journalists murdered with impunity since 1992
  • 456 journalists in exile since 2008

Source: Committee to Protect Journalists

It does not appear, therefore, that the killers panicked as they ran away, our correspondent says.

It is known from sources in Kidal that at least one French military helicopter was in the air shortly after the kidnapping took place.

But a spokesman for the French military said French forces did not have any visual or physical contact with the kidnappers.

Mr Fabius said that security will be stepped up in the region,

However, our correspondent says questions will still be asked about how this kidnapping could have taken place five minutes drive from a large international military base containing several hundred French and UN soldiers.

France led an operation to oust Islamist rebels from northern Mali - its former colony - earlier this year, sending in thousands of troops.

It handed over responsibility for security to a UN force in the summer.

But French troops are still in the country helping to prevent a resurgence of militant activity in the region.

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