Kidnapped Mali opposition staff freed but leader still missing

BAMAKO, April 3 (Reuters) - Five people kidnapped last week with Mali's main opposition leader Soumaila Cisse were freed overnight, but Cisse and three others are still missing, his party said on Friday.

Cisse and members of his delegation were ambushed by unidentified gunmen on March 25 as he campaigned ahead of parliamentary elections in the northern region of Timbuktu.

His bodyguard was killed in the attack and two others were wounded, his party, the Union for the Republic and Democracy (URD), said last week.

In a statement on Friday, the URD said that the five people freed included Cisse's assistant and his driver.

"The URD ... hopes to very quickly find its president, the honourable Soumaila Cisse, and the three remaining members of his delegation," it said.

No one has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, but the region where it took place is frequently targeted by Islamist militants with links to al Qaeda.

Mali's government and the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the country have both said they are working to secure Cisse's release.

Cisse, 70, lost elections in 2013 and 2018 to President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. He was campaigning last week for a parliament seat in long-delayed elections that went ahead on Sunday despite persistent insecurity and the coronavirus epidemic.

The electoral commission announced on Thursday that Cisse had retained his seat in the first round of voting.

(Reporting by Paul Lorgerie; Writing by Juliette Jabkhiro; Editing by Aaron Ross and Nick Macfie)


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