French and Malian authorities have started search operations for a French aid worker abducted by militants in the West African country.
France’s Foreign Ministry confirmed on Sunday that Sophie Petronin, a Frenchwoman who runs an organization for malnourished children in Mali, had been kidnapped in Mali’s restive north a day earlier, adding that a joint search operation had been launched to find the aid worker.
The ministry said that French and Malian authorities were working together “to find and free our compatriot as quickly as possible.” It added that the family of Petronin has been contacted by the ministry.
Other sources said French military forces were also contributing to the search operation.
“French soldiers of the Barkhane force (in Mali) are actively taking part in the search alongside the Malians,” a military source said in France without elaborating.
As the director of a non-governmental organization in the Malian city of Gao, Petronin has been helping children suffering from malnutrition in Mali for a long time. The woman, who is believed to be in her sixties, has a specialty in nutrition and tropical diseases. Petronin had escaped a kidnapping by militants in Gao in 2012.
Reports from Mali on Saturday had suggested that a woman with dual French and Swiss nationality had been abducted in Gao. The Swiss Foreign Ministry, however, later said that it found no evidence showing that Petronin had Swiss citizenship.
Violence erupted in Mali’s volatile north after groups linked to al-Qaeda seized areas in the territory beginning from March 2012. The government, pro-government groups and ethnic Tuareg rebels managed to reach a peace pact last year following some lengthy negotiations but clashes continue unabated.