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Mali slams ‘cowardly murder’ of hostage

Bamako - Mali has denounced as a “cowardly and despicable murder” the death of a French hostage announced by one of the west African nation's top jihadist groups.

The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), a splinter group of al-Qaeda's regional branch, told AFP on Tuesday Gilberto Rodrigues Leal was “dead, because France is our enemy” although it did not explicitly spell out that the Frenchman had been murdered.

The Malian government released a statement hours later voicing sorrow for Rodrigues Leal's death and vowing to help in the hunt for his killers.

The statement said that “this cowardly and despicable murder... shows how the terrorists we fight with all our might have contempt for human life and the model of democratic and free society we are trying to build”.

French President Francois Hollande also affirmed that his government would “do everything to find the truth about what happened” and that Rodrigues Leal's death would not go unpunished.

“There is every reason to believe that our compatriot died several weeks ago because of the conditions in which he was being held,” he said.

Rodrigues Leal was kidnapped on November 20, 2012 by armed men near the western town of Kayes as he was driving a camper van from Mauritania.

MUJAO is one of several Islamist groups that occupied the vast desert north of Mali along with Tuareg separatist rebels in 2012, in the wake of a military coup.

The Islamists later routed the Tuareg and began an advance on Bamako that led former colonial power France to send in troops to drive them out of Mali's northern towns and cities in January 2013. - Sapa-AFP

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