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11.05.2019 Africa

Don't Venture Sahel 'Red Zone—France Warn Tourists

RFI/Olivier Fourt
MAY 11, 2019 AFRICA

France is urging extreme caution for tourists in the southern Sahel following the kidnapping and rescue of two French nationals, who were freed in what the military described as a “highly complex” operation.

Two French commandos were killed in the night-time raid to free the tourists, Patrick Picque and Laurent Lassimouillas, who had gone missing in a wildlife park in Benin on 1 May, before being taken to neighbouring Burkina Faso.

An American and a South Korean were also rescued during the mission – carried out with the help of elite troops from the regional Barkhane force – while four kidnappers were killed.

Speaking to French radio Saturday, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said jihadists were increasingly active in the region, and that the area where the rescue took place was considered a red zone.

“This is an area where we should not go, and where we take major risks if we do,” Le Drian said. "The greatest precaution must be taken in these regions to prevent such abductions from taking place and to avoid the sacrifice of our soldiers."

Le Drain advised tourists wishing to travel to the Sahel to read the Quai d'Orsay's latest travel advice, which is regularly updated and which indicates the zones considered “high risk”, “low risk” and “safe”.

Last chance for military to strike

It's understood the hostages were about to be transferred to Mali when they were freed.

France's army chief Francois Lecointre told reporters the rescue operation came on the back of a reconnaissance mission that returned vital information on the gang of six hostage-takers.

When the gang stopped in northern Burkina Faso on Thursday night, the military considered this to be the final opportunity to intervene before the hostages were transferred to Islamist militants in Mali – where a rescue operation would have been too risky.

"It was an extremely complex operation, with extremely demanding timings," Lecointre said.