The bodies of two French journalists shot dead in the rebel-infested northern desert of Mali arrived in Paris early yesterday, as Bamako vowed to hunt down their killers.
The Air France flight carrying the coffins of of Ghislaine Dupont, 57, and Claude Verlon, 55, arrived at the Charles de Gaulle airport in the French capital from Bamako.
The two journalists working for Radio France Internationale (RFI) were kidnapped and killed by what French Minister of Foreign Affairs Laurent Fabius called “terrorist groups” in the flashpoint northeastern town of Kidal on Saturday.
“We will do everything to find the culprits,” Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita vowed as he met with members of the RFI management in the capital of the west African nation on Monday.
The victims’ bodies were flown to Bamako on Sunday night, where hundreds of Malian reporters and RFI colleagues marched through the streets in silent tribute.
“We organized this silent march to say ‘never again’ — the perpetrators of this crime must be punished,” said Makan Kone, president of the capital’s media association, the Bamako Press House.
Keita later attended a ceremony at Bamako airport with several government ministers in honor of the journalists, saying he was in contact with French President Francois Hollande and the investigation was “progressing.”
The president said he thought of Dupont, a correspondent with years of experience reporting on Africa, as his “own daughter.”
A police source in Gao, the main city in northern Mali, said “a dozen suspects” had been detained, but a source close to French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian denied there had been any arrests.
Fabius told RTL radio on Monday that “operations” were underway in Mali in a bid to “identify a certain number of people in camps.”
The deaths have highlighted the ongoing security threat just three weeks ahead of parliamentary elections supposed to mark the completion of Mali’s transition back to democracy following a military coup in March last year.
There has been an upsurge in violence in the former French colony, where Paris sent troops early this year to drive out Islamists and Tuareg rebels who had seized the country’s vast north after the coup.
A UN peacekeeping force is eventually expected to comprise about 12,600 troops and police, but Malian soldiers have voiced concerns over a planned drawdown of French troops. Paris was due to reduce its deployment of 3,000 troops to 1,000 by the end of January, but government spokesman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem signaled that the decision might be reversed.