Al Qaeda's branch in Mali has released a video of six foreign hostages, including French naitonal Sophie Pétronin, just before a visit by France's President Emmanuel Macron to finalise the establishment of a Sahel anti-jihadi force with the leaders of five Afican countries.
The undated video by Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen, also known as the Group to Support Islam and Muslims, was released on Telegram on Saturday, US-based monitoring group SITE said.
It featured Pétronin, the head of an NGO that works with children, who was abducted by armed men in Gao, northern Mali, in December 2016 and says she hopes Macron will help her return to her family.
The other hostages are:
Australian surgeon Arthur Kenneth Elliott, 82, who was kidnapped along with his wife, Jocelyn, in Burkina Faso in January 2015, Jocelyn being released in February 2016:
South African Stephen McGowan, kidnapped in northern Mali in November 2011;
Romanian mining engineer Iulian Ghergut kidnapped in Burkina Faso in 2015;
Swiss missionary Béatrice Stockly, kidnapped in Mali in January 2016;
Colombian nun Gloria Cecilia Narvaez Argoti kidnapped in Malinin February 2017.
At the end of the video the narrator tells the hostages' families "no genuine negotiations have begun" for their release but then adds that discussions are "still active".
Macron addresses G5 meeting
Macron arrived in Bamako overnight for a meeting with the leaders of the G5 countries - Chad's Idriss Déby, Mauritania's Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz, Burkina Faso's Roch Marc Christian Kaboré and Niger's Mahamadou Issoufou (Niger) - to discuss the military force they will set up to fight jihadism, smuggling and people trafficking in the Sahel region.
The force, which will supplement France's operation Barkhane and the UN's Minusma mission in Mali, will start with 5,000 troops and the G5 hope to double its numbers over time.
"It will be up to you and your armies to show that the G5 can be effective while respecting humanitarian conventions," Macron told the heads of state. "The results must be delivered to convince our partners."
France hopes to convince its European allies and the US to help finance the force, whose budget will be close to 500 million euros, according to sources.
So far the European Union has promised 50 million euros, while Washington forced Paris to amend a UN Security Council resolution to avoid commitment to funding from the world body.
Déby, whose country is already contributing to Minusma and the multinational force fighting Nigerian-based Boko Haram, has threatened to pull out of the G5 force for budgetary reason.