► What do we know about the negotiations for the release of Olivier Dubois?
Paris first relied on Mali to negotiate with the kidnappers of the French journalist, the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM), a jihadist group with a Tuareg component and linked to Al-Qaeda. Among the Malian actors, it seems that the High Islamic Council was mobilized initially, as well as the head of the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), Alghabass Ag Intalla.
The latter is a great figure of the Ifoghas, one of the most important Tuareg peoples present in Mali and Niger, many of whose members fight within the GSIM. The head of GSIM, Iyad Ag Ghali, is himself from this community. “AlghabassAg Intalla has the confidence of the GSIM, he played the intermediary for Bamako and Paris”, assures a Malian observer. “We were indeed approached by intermediaries to find them information, but it was not us who negotiated the release of the French journalist. It was the Nigerien channel that took care of it, ”assures La Croix the spokesperson for the CMA, Mohamed Maouloud Ramadane.
►What do we know about the role played by Niger?
The Niger channel was activated by Paris as relations between France and Mali deteriorated. During their visit to Niamey on July 15 and 16, 2022, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Colonna, and the Minister for the Armed Forces, Sébastien Lecornu, asked for the help of Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum. An ally of France, this country has expertise in this area. It was he who had obtained the release of Serge Lazarevic on December 8, 2014, and previously of Daniel Larribe, Marc Féret, Thierry Dol and Pierre Legrand, the four hostages from Arlit (Niger), released on October 29, 2013.
The Nigerien president at the time, Mahamadou Issoufou, had relied on the Touareg Mohamed Akotey to negotiate and obtain their release. This man in the shadows, nephew of the leader of the Tuareg rebellion of the 1990s, is also an Ifoghas. The channels of discussion with the Tuareg rebel groups have not been cut since. Among the levers available to Niger is the High Authority for the Consolidation of Peace, a structure responsible for stabilizing the populations in the areas where the groups operate.
►Were there any quid pro quos?
France and Niger deny it. However, experience shows that France pays ransoms. And that at the center of the negotiations is also the exchange of prisoners. This was the case for the release of Sophie Pétronin, two Italians and the former Malian minister Soumaïla Cissé, who were exchanged for 200 prisoners detained in Mali, including jihadists, on October 8, 2020. If officially there is no now no more French hostages, eight are considered hostages of a State: seven in Iran as well as the Franco-Afghan journalist Mortaza Behboudi in Afghanistan.
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