French hostage freed in Mali

Paris – France’s only remaining hostage held abroad, Serge Lazarevic, who was kidnapped in Mali in 2011, has been freed and is in “relatively good health”, French President Francois Hollande said on Tuesday.

“Our hostage Serge Lazarevic, our last hostage is free,” Hollande said.

“There are no more French hostages in any country in the world.”

Hollande said Lazarevic would be met by his daughter in the Nigerian capital Niamey before making his way back to France where he and his family would be welcomed by the president.

“He is in relatively good health, despite the gruelling conditions of his long captivity,” said Hollande.

Lazarevic, who has dual French and Serbian citizenship, was the last French hostage still being held worldwide, after hiker Herve Gourdel was abducted in Algeria and beheaded in September by Islamic State-linked militants.

Several French citizens have been kidnapped in recent years, mostly in Africa where up to 15 were held in 2013.

Lazarevic was accompanying Frenchman Philippe Verdon on a business trip when they were both seized by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) on November 24, 2011.

Both were held throughout the takeover by AQIM and other armed groups of vast areas of northern Mali in 2012 which resulted in an intervention by the French army in January 2013 to oust the Islamists.

Verdon was found shot dead last year and Lazarevic had last been seen in an AQMI video in November in which he said he was gravely ill and believed his life to be in danger.

Hollande thanked authorities in Mali and Niger for their assistance in securing Lazarevic’s release.

“This liberation was the result of intense and continued efforts from authorities both in Niger and Mali,” the presidency in Niamey said in a statement.

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