Kidnapped Mali opposition leader 'doing well' as release talks under way

In this file photo taken on August 17, 2018 Malian opposition leader Soumaila Cisse delivers a speech during a press conference, in Bamako, on the eve of the official results of Mali's presidential election. Picture: AFP
In this file photo taken on August 17, 2018 Malian opposition leader Soumaila Cisse delivers a speech during a press conference, in Bamako, on the eve of the official results of Mali's presidential election. Picture: AFP

Mali's opposition leader Soumaila Cisse is "doing well" a week after his kidnapping, his political movement said on Friday, as negotiations were under way with his captors for his release.

A former finance minister and presidential contender, Cisse, 70, and members of his team were snatched in jihadist-ridden central Mali by unidentified gunmen who attacked their convoy.

Cisse's bodyguard was killed and two others injured by the assailants, likely members of an Al-Qaeda affiliate led by radical Islamist preacher Amadou Koufa, according to security and local sources.

Eight people kidnapped alongside Cisse have now been freed, his party said on Friday, leaving only Cisse in captivity.

Cisse's Union for the Republic and Democracy (URD) initially said that five members of its leader's entourage had been freed, but on Friday night it announced the release of the remaining three members.

At a press conference earlier on Friday, URD spokesman Demba Traore had said that Cisse and the three hostages who remained in captivity at that time were "doing well".

"I can assure you that no ransom was paid," Traore told reporters.

"Negotiations are continuing normally."

But later on Friday evening, the party said in a statement that the remaining three hostages had been freed, too.

Cisse remains under the control of his captors, however.

The talks to secure his release are being led by a local mayor and some community figures.

The Malian government had earlier welcomed the liberation of the first five hostages, saying it was a good signal for the opposition leader's eventual release.

Despite a years-long jihadist conflict raging in the West African state, Cisse's abduction was the first of a politician of his rank.

Mali has been struggling to contain an Islamist insurgency that erupted in the north in 2012, and which has claimed thousands of military and civilian lives.

The opposition leader won his seat in Mali's parliamentary election on Sunday, provisional results released on Thursday indicate.

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