Former French hostage Pétronin's return to Mali after 2020 release slammed as 'irresponsible'

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Sophie Pétronin, a French charity worker who was held hostage in northern Mali for four years and released in October 2020, returned to the West African country in March to join her adopted daughter, according to RFI.

The French government on Wednesday deplored the "irresponsibility" of her return to Mali.

Sophie Pétronin, 76, who was freed a year ago on 8 October 2020 after four years in captivity in the northern Malian city of Gao, returned discreetly to Mali in March, RFI reported on Tuesday.

In Switzerland, where she had settled after her release, Sophie Pétronin did not feel happy and wanted to return to the country where she had spent twenty years of her life, sources close to family members told RFI.

Her adopted daughter is located in Mali. The septuagenarian humanitarian also wanted to continue to look after orphans, as she did before her kidnapping.

On Wednesday, government spokesman Gabriel Attal called Petronin's decision "a form of irresponsibility".

Attal said the former aid worker was compromising her own security as well as that of France's military personnel.

"Some of our soldiers have died in operations to save hostages who were taken in foreign countries," he said, calling for "respect for our soldiers".

Wanted notice

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

The Malian police issued a wanted notice for Pétronin on 2nd October, asking police to apprehend her.

Pétronin was reportedly last seen near Sikasso in the southeast of the country, more than 350km from the capital Bamako.

But sources close to Pétronin told RFI that she hadn't left Bamako since her return to Mali and had never been to Sikasso. They added they had no explanation for this wanted notice, nor for the reasons behind it.

French diplomatic sources have said they are not interpreting the wanted notice as a "hostile act" from the Malian authorities, despite recent tensions with France.

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