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Africa

Burkina Faso 'optimistic' about release of kidnapped Australian couple, says foreign minister

media 80-year-old Dr Elliott & his wife moved to Burkina Faso in 1972 Facebook/Djibo soutient Dr. Ken Elliot

Burkina Faso’s foreign minister has told RFI that he is optimistic about the release of two kidnapped Australians. Ken and Jocelyn Elliott were snatched from the northern town of Djibo by an Al-Qaeda linked militant group almost one week ago. The Australian couple have lived in Burkina Faso for more than 40 years and had established a local hospital.

“We don’t have any news about the Australian couple,” Alpha Barry, foreign minister, said late on Thursday night. “We’re optimistic, we remain optimistic and hope for a positive outcome in the next hours or days,” Barry added.

The Elliott’s 120-bed surgical clinic in Djibo is a vital facility within the community, prompting residents to take to the streets in protest, calling for their release. And a Facebook group in support of the Elliotts has garnered some 5,000 likes.

Foreign minister Barry said the government was doing everything it could to secure the couple’s release. Although Ken and Jocelyn hold Australian nationality, Barry said “we consider them as Burkinabe” given the time they have spent in Burkina Faso and the work they do on the ground.

The government is sending people to Djibo to “help the sick who are without their doctor”, Barry said, while security forces in the region will be directed to “intensify the search to find the Elliott couple”.

Malian militant group Ansar Dine claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. The couple were alive and more details would be released soon, the AFP news agency reported on Saturday, citing Hamadou Ag Khallini, a spokeman for the group.

“We aren’t in contact and we’ve not been contacted,” said Barry, when asked whether the government had been in touch with Ansar Dine.

“Everything is possible because you know that Djibo isn’t far from the Malian border, it’s in the same area,” said Barry, referring to the possibility that the Australian couple could have been taken into Mali. “It’s the same people, it’s the same vegetation, and so nothing’s being ruled out, the two hostages could be outside Burkinabe territory,” the foreign minister added.

The Elliott family said they were “particularly heartened by the tremendous support of the Burkinabe people” following demonstrations in Djibo calling for their release. People in the town “clearly consider Ken and Jocelyn to be one of their own after all these years of providing surgical services to the region”, according to a statement from the family on Tuesday.

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