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Missing Mali opposition leader kidnapped

A former finance minister and presidential contender, Soumaila Cisse went missing in jihadist-ridden central Mali on Wednesday afternoon in circumstances that remain unclear.

FILE: In this file photo taken on August 17, 2018 Malian opposition leader Soumaila Cisse delivers a speech during a press conference, in Bamako, on the eve of the official results of Mali's presidential election. Picture: AFP

BAMAKO - Leading Malian opposition leader Soumaila Cisse has been kidnapped, the government said Thursday, in a first for a politician of his rank in the war-torn West African state.

A former finance minister and presidential contender, Cisse went missing in jihadist-ridden central Mali on Wednesday afternoon in circumstances that remain unclear.

His Union for the Republic and Democracy (URD) party released a statement later on Wednesday saying Cisse and his team had failed to turn up for an expected appointment and could not be reached by phone.

On Thursday, Malian government spokesman Yaya Sangare released a communique referring to Cisse's disappearance as a "kidnap," without offering further details.

"All the arrangements are being made to find the missing people and return them to their families," the statement said.

Two URD party members, who requested anonymity, also told AFP that the politician had been kidnapped.

Mali has been struggling to contain an Islamist insurgency that erupted in the north in 2012, and which has claimed thousands of military and civilian lives.

Despite the presence of thousands of French and UN troops, the conflict in Mali has engulfed the centre of the country and spread to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.

Al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists are active in the area of central Mali where Cisse and his team disappeared.

They were in the volatile region to campaign ahead of a parliamentary poll on Sunday, his party said.

The election has long been delayed because of chronic insecurity in the country.