France criticises saved hostage who went back to Mali

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French aid worker Sophie Pétronin, who was freed in 2020 after being held for four years by jihadist militants in Mali, is once again missing in the West African nation.

Pétronin, 76, who ran a charity for malnourished and orphaned children in the desert city of Gao until her abduction in 2016, discreetly returned to Mali in March. 

Pétronin was reportedly unhappy in Switzerland, where she had been living since her release in October 2020, and wanted to return to the country where she had spent 20 years of her life. Sources close to the family told RFI that she was also eager to be reunited with her adopted daughter. 

French government spokesman Gabriel Attal called Pétronin’s decision to return to Mali “a form of irresponsibility”. He told reporters that the former aid worker was compromising her own security as well as that of France’s military personnel.

“When our citizens are taken hostage abroad our soldiers go to save them, risking their lives,” Attal said.

“Some of our soldiers have died in operations to save hostages who were taken in foreign countries,” he added, calling for more “respect for our soldiers”.

Mali refused to issue Pétronin a visa for her return but she eventually managed to enter the country by taking an overland route from Senegal, according to . 

Pétronin had always said she planned to return to Mali to continue her work. 

File photo of French aid worker Sophie Petronin (R) after being freed from captivity by Islamist insurgents, with her son Sebastien Chadaud-Petronin (L) in Bamako, Mali, 09 October 2020. EPA-EFE/STR

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