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Mali prison officers threaten strike over Lazarevic prisoner exchange

media Serge Lazarevic (L) with French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (C) with his daughter Diane (L) and French President François Hollande at Villacoublay airport Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

Prison officers in Mali are threatening to strike over the release of prisoners in exchange for French hostage Serge Lazarevic. One of the freed men had killed a guard during an escape attempt and is believed to have planned Lazarevic’s capture. NGOs have protested at “impunity” for rights violators.

Sources in Bamako have confirmed to RFI that several prisoners were freed to obtain Lazarevic’s release.

But prison officers are furious, especially because one of them is Mohamed Aly ag Wadoussène, a Tuareg National Guard deserter who is reported to have been taken to Niger and from there to northern Mali at the beginning of last week.

Dossier: War in Mali

Along with Haiba Ag Acherif he was arrested for his supposed part in Lazarevic’s kidnapping but broke out of prison, killing warden Kola Sofara during the escape.

He was later recaptured.

“We are really angry about the release of Aly ag Wadoussène,” Bamako prison officer Balla Kuliballi told RFI. “We’re really unhappy with the conditions in which he was freed.”

“If the government doesn’t do anything, we will indeed plan to strike,” said prison officers’ union leader Aboubakar Sidiki Traore.

Mali’s opposition parties have called for an explanation of the conditions of the prisoners’ release and NGOs, including local chapters of the league of human rights and Amnesty International, have issued an open letter declaring that “peace and reconciliation must not be won by encouraging impunity”.

“Although we understand the need to find ways of freeing hostages, we consider that these solutions should not violate the rights of victims and the principal of the separation of powers in Mali,” it says.

The Friends of Ghislaine Dupont, a group formed after the murder of the RFI journalist and her colleague Claude Verlon in northern Mali last year, expressed concern that the exchange could be a “sign of impunity for hostage-takers and murderers”.

An umbrella group of NGOs in neighbouring Niger expressed fear that the deal could “somehow encourage hostage-taking”.

Lazarevic was the last French hostage being held anywhere in the world.

There are three other foreign hostages still being held in Mali – Swede Johan Gustafson, South African Stephen Malcolm and Dutch national Sjaak Rijke.

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