PARIS: French special forces freed two French hostages, an American and a South Korean, in northern Burkina Faso in an overnight raid in which two soldiers died, authorities announced on Friday.
The operation was ordered to free the French tourists, identified as Patrick Picque and Laurent Lassimouillas, who disappeared while on holiday in the remote Pendjari National Park in neighbouring Benin on May 1.
The identity of the American and South Korean hostages was not immediately known, but they were both said to be women in a statement from the French presidency.
Two soldiers killed in the operation
The location of the raid indicated that the French tourists had been kidnapped in Benin and taken over the nearby border into Burkina Faso, where terrorist groups have stepped up attacks in recent months.
President Emmanuel Macron “wants to congratulate the French armed forces for the liberation of the hostages, and includes everyone who worked alongside them,” the statement from the presidency said.
“He bows with emotion and solemnity before the sacrifice of our two soldiers who gave their lives to save those of our citizens,” the statement added.
In a separate statement, Defence Minister Florence Parly thanked authorities in Benin and Burkina Faso for their help with the “complex operation”, as well as the United States for its “precious support”.
Four kidnappers were killed in the raid, the French army said, adding that the American military had provided intelligence.
Former colonial ruler France has 4,500 troops deployed in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad in a mission codenamed ‘Barkhane’ to help local forces in their battle with militant groups.
American troops and drones are also known to operate in the violence-wracked Sahel region, which France fears could become further destabilised as militant groups are pushed out of north Africa, Iraq and Syria.
The French tourists — a jewellery seller and a piano teacher and orchestra conductor based in the Paris region aged 51 and 46 — went missing with their wildlife guide on the last leg of their holiday in usually peaceful Benin.
The Pendjari wildlife reserve, which is famed for its elephants and lions, lies close to the porous border with Burkina Faso.
The badly disfigured body of their guide was found shortly after they disappeared, as well as their abandoned four-wheel Toyota truck.
The two dead soldiers were named as Cedric de Pierrepont and Alain Bertoncello, decorated naval special forces members born in 1986 and 1991 respectively. They were part of the “Task Force Sabre” unit which is based in Burkina Faso.
Published in Dawn, May 11th, 2019