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Two French journalists killed in Mali

Sources say the two journalists were abducted after interviewing a local official in Kidal.

Two French journalists, Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon were abducted and killed in Kidal, north of Mali. Picture:AFP

BAMAKO/PARIS - Two French radio journalists were killed by gunmen in northern Mali on Saturday shortly after being abducted in the town of Kidal, French and Malian officials said.

The French government confirmed that 58-year-old Claude Verlon and 51-year-old Ghislaine Dupont, both journalists at RFI radio, had been found dead.

French President Francois Hollande strongly condemned the incident.

Kidal is the birthplace of a Tuareg uprising last year that plunged Mali into chaos, leading to a coup in the capital Bamako and the occupation of the northern half of the country by militants linked to al- Qaeda.

A French-led military intervention drove out the militants but there are still pockets of insurgents and the incident dramatically highlighted the continuing security risks.

France still has about 3,000 soldiers in the country, alongside Malian troops and UN peacekeepers, although it only has about 200 troops in Kidal and another 100 in Tessalit, several hundred kilometres away in the northwest.

Full details of how the journalists died were not immediately clear, although the French forces said their bodies were found by a patrol that had been told of the kidnapping.

He said that two French helicopters had been dispatched from Tessalit to track the hostage takers, but they arrived in the area 50 minutes after the bodies were discovered.

Earlier, several French media reports said a French helicopter had tracked the kidnappers' vehicles after the abduction

Hollande said his cabinet would meet on Sunday to work with the UN and Malian authorities to establish how they had been "assassinated."

TRAVELLING WARNING ISSUED TO JOURNALISTS

France's defence ministry said that the French army had warned the reporters not to travel to Kidal on 29 October and refused to take them to the town.

"They were advised to not travel there due to insecurity that continues to reign in the area and the rivalry between different groups operating in the area."

The journalists were seized after they interviewed Kidal resident Ambeiry Ag Rhissa, a local official with the MNLA Tuareg separatist group.

RFI confirmed in a news bulletin that Dupont and Verlon were kidnapped in front of Rhissa's house after the interview by gunmen speaking the local Tuareg dialect.

RFI said in a statement that the journalist were working on stories on northern Mali for a special broadcast the station was planning from 7 November. The broadcast has been cancelled it said.

The kidnapping happened four days after four French hostages who were kidnapped in Niger by al Qaeda's north African wing, were released following secret talks with officials from the West African country, ending three years in captivity.

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