Election workers kidnapped in northern Mali released

One hostage used his mobile phone to call nearby French forces, who found the election workers and negotiated their release.

TIMBUKTU, Mali — A group of election workers, who were kidnapped over the weekend in northern Mali's troubled Kidal region where they had gone to distribute voter ID cards, were released Sunday, officials said.

The incident comes a week before Mali is rushing ahead with a July 28 presidential election, despite concerns over the lack of government control in the province of Kidal, which remains largely the turf of Tuareg separatists. The rebels known as the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, or NMLA, reluctantly signed an accord last month, renouncing their claim to independence and agreeing to allow government administrators to return ahead of the election.

"The hostages were found not far from Tessalit," said Kidal's Governor Col. Adama Kamissoko. One of the hostages was able to use his mobile phone to call the French forces stationed nearby, who are called Serval, he said. "Serval was able to locate them, and then put pressure on the NMLA in order to find the hostages. This morning Serval went and brought the hostages and handed them over."

The election workers, who numbered at least five people including four election workers and the deputy mayor of Tessalit, were driven to Camp Amachache, a military camp located 4 miles outside Tessalit, which is the base of Chadian forces with the United Nations peacekeeping mission.

Officials differed on how many people had been kidnapped, with the governor saying a total of five, while the ministry of territorial administration originally said six were taken.

The kidnapping is one more worrying sign for the upcoming presidential election. One of the 28 candidates in the race, opposition politician Tiebile Drame who came in third in the last election six years ago, dropped out last week, arguing that the election risks worsening Mali's crisis.

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