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Four Abducted Alongside Catholic Priest in Mali’s Mopti Diocese Freed

The flag of Mali./ Railway fx via Shutterstock.

Four people who had been abducted alongside a Catholic Priest in Mali’s Mopti Diocese on the morning of  Monday, June 21 have been set free.

Fr. Léon Dougnon, the Parish Priest of Ségué, was abducted alongside Thimothé Somboro, the village chief of Ségué, Pascal Somboro, deputy mayor, and two other members of the community, Emmanuel Somboro and Boutié Tolofoudié.

The four were freed Wednesday, June 23.

While Agenzia Fides reported that Fr. Léon was among those freed, La Croix Africa has quoted Fr. Kizito Togo of the Catholic Cathedral of Mopti as saying, “inhabitant of Ségué are telling us that the four lay people have returned to the village, but they have not yet seen Fr. Léon Dougnon."

The Governor of Central Mali’s Mopti region, Major Abass Dembélé, said the abductees were freed after the kidnappers’ vehicle broke down not far from Mali’s border with Burkina Faso.

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“The kidnappers therefore decided to abandon the vehicle somewhere in the bush and, thanks to the mediation of local Dogon and Fulani notables, they agreed to free their five hostages, who had become very cumbersome,” Mr. Dembélé has been quoted as saying.

The group of five went missing June 21 while travelling from Ségué in the centre of the country to take part in the funeral of Fr. Oscar Thera in the town of San, Fr. Alexis Dembélé was quoted as saying Tuesday, June 22.

Mali, a country with a population of 19.66 million people has reportedly experienced a surge in violence involving both civilians and the military since 2012. Since then, abductions have become more persistent in the nation with militants seeking either to get ransoms or to exert political pressure.

The attacks orchestrated by independent militia and jihadists linked to al-Qaeda and Islamic State, as well as inter-communal violence, have left thousands dead and hundreds of thousands displaced. 

The violence has spread to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.

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Sr. Gloria Cecilia Narvaez Argot, a member of the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary Immaculate, kidnapped in the Catholic Diocese of Sikasso in Southern Mali in 2017 is believed to be in the hands of jihadists linked to Al-Qaeda.

The situation is further complicated by political instability in the West African nation.

The West African nation is currently under the leadership of Colonel Assimi Goita who led two coups in a span of nine months, first ousting the country’s elected President last August and, most recently, the interim leaders who were to head the country’s transitional government.

Following the May 24 coup, Mali’s constitutional court named Colonel Goita transitional President of Mali until the West African nation holds elections to replace the country’s elected President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita who was ousted in August last year.

The move attracted criticism and condemnation, with the Catholic Church leaders in the country naming it “seizure of power outside the legal process.”

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In their collective statement that was circulated May 27, the members of the Episcopal Conference of Mali (CEM) firmly condemned “the crisis resulting from personal calculations far from the concerns of the people and the interests of Mali.”

This was the day that the country’s interim President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane were arrested following a cabinet restructuring, a move Colonel Goita claimed had happened without his input, and stripped of their power while in detention.

As a way forward, the Catholic Bishops recommended “a constructive dialogue to put an end to the present crisis and suggest a social truce.”