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Swiss among hostages released in Mali

The Swiss hostages were taken after visiting a festival for Tuareg culture Keystone

Al-Qaida terrorists in Mali have released four hostages, including one Swiss woman. Two male hostages, a Swiss and a Briton, remain held.

This content was published on April 22, 2009 - 18:44

The Swiss foreign ministry welcomed the release but called for the remaining hostages to be set free immediately.

Two Canadians working for the United Nations, a German woman and a Swiss woman had all been liberated, Malian presidential spokesman Seydou Cissouma said on Wednesday.

They arrived in Bamako on Wednesday night and were received by President Ahmadou Toumani Touré. They were due to leave Mali on Thursday.

A spokesman said all four were in good health but the German tourist, who is in her 70s, was very tired.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed his appreciation to the authorities in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger for their efforts.

The Swiss foreign ministry also thanked the Mali government for its "great commitment" to resolving the situation and said efforts would continue to secure the release of the second Swiss national whose wife was among those freed.

There was no word on the fate of the two other missing tourists.

Priority country

In February al-Qaida's wing in North Africa claimed responsibility for the January kidnappings of four tourists in northern Mali, including a Swiss couple.

Malian officials had initially blamed Tuareg rebels for abducting the two Swiss, a German woman and a British man near Mali's border with Niger on January 22. The tourists had been at a festival for Tuareg culture when they were taken from their car and driven to Niger.

The militant group also said it was behind the abduction of Canadian United Nations envoy Robert Fowler and his aide Louis Guay, who went missing in Niger in December.

Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, formerly known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), has claimed a series of attacks in the region in recent years.

The group did not issue demands for the hostages' release, but in the past it has obtained ransoms for western tourists kidnapped in the Sahara, the world's largest desert.

Wednesday's development came a week after Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey visited Mali, Nigeria and Burkina Faso.

High on the agenda were discussions in Mali on the release of the two Swiss kidnapped there. Calmy-Rey thanked the president of Mali, Amadou Toumani Touré, for his help with the situation.

Mali and Burkina Faso are both priority countries for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

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Mali

Switzerland recognised Mali as an independent state in 1960 and the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1961.

Despite a number of bilateral treaties (trade, economic cooperation, mutual investment protection, civil aviation), economic exchange remained modest.

Since the late 1970s, Mali has been a priority country for Swiss development cooperation.

Through its coordination office in the capital, Bamako, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) supports projects in the areas of healthcare, sustainable management of natural resources and decentralisation. In 2005 the SDC also provided food aid.

Population: 12.3 million
Per capita GDP 2007: $449 (SFr522)
Swiss colony 2006: 62 people
Swiss exports 2006: SFr2.6 million
Swiss imports 2006: SFr3.35 million

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