Two journalists working for Radio France Internationale were found dead yesterday in northern Mali, marking the first killings of reporters in the African country in at least two decades.
Claude Verlon and Ghislaine Dupont, both working at RFI, were kidnapped yesterday in Kidal, 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) northeast of Bamako, by an unidentified “armed group,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The journalists were shot and their bodies found a few meters from a locked car, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in Paris today.
Dupont, 51, had worked as a reporter specializing in African news since joining RFI in 1986, the radio station said in a statement. Verlon, 58, was a 31-year veteran radio technician specializing in external operations, it said.
Violence in northern Mali surged in September after ethnic Touareg rebels, known as the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, backed out of a peace agreement with the government. French President Francois Hollande sent troops in January to prevent militant groups, including some Islamist insurgents, from taking control of the country, Africa’s third-largest gold producer.
France and Mali are determined to “continue and win this common fight against terrorism,” Hollande’s office said in a statement late yesterday. Hollande and Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who spoke by phone yesterday after the murders, want to keep fighting terrorist groups in northern Mali “without respite,” Hollande’s statement said.
“It is not possible at this moment to confirm who the killers were or whom they may have been allied with,” Kidal’s governor, Adama Kamissoko, said today by phone. Four armed, turbaned men took the two journalists hostage yesterday and murdered them, he said.
Dupont and Verlon were forced onto a beige Toyota pickup truck in Kidal, RFI said in a report on its website yesterday. Dupont and Verlon were abducted in front of the Kidal residence of an NMLA official they had just interviewed, RFI said.
The journalists were killed about 15 kilometers east of Kidal on the route toward Tinessako, RFI reported. The two had previously been in Kidal in July to cover the first round of the Malian presidential elections, the radio station said.
Hollande, who said in a statement yesterday he felt “indignation for this hateful act,” held a meeting today with officials including Fabius and Justice Minister Christiane Taubira to discuss the killings.
The securing of Kidal and neighboring areas “will be increased,” Fabius said after today’s meeting with Hollande. France is working with Malian authorities to shed light “as rapidly as possible” on the circumstances of the reporters’ death, the foreign ministry said yesterday.
The Ouagadougou accords, signed in June, allowed for the return before August national elections of about 200 Malian soldiers to Kidal, a city of about 12,000. NMLA rebels, who came back to Kidal following the French intervention in January, currently occupy Kidal’s government buildings and have yet to disarm.
Former Prime Minister Boubacar was elected Mali’s president Aug. 11, more than a year after the military led a coup in March 2012 amid lack of support from the government to fight rebel groups. France will keep about 3,000 soldiers in Mali to support forces from African countries under a United Nations mandate, Hollande said last month.
Before yesterday, 60 reporters and 2 media workers had been killed around the world this year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Dupont and Verlon are the first journalists killed in Mali since New York-based CPJ started tracking deaths in 1992, Mohamed Keita, a CPJ official for Africa, said by e-mail today.