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Red Cross Says Two Kidnapped Workers Released in Mali  

Gao, Mali
Gao, Mali

Two International Committee of the Red Cross employees kidnapped in early March in northern Mali were released Sunday, the organization's Malian branch announced.

"We confirm that the two ICRC employees kidnapped on March 4 between [the cities of] Gao and Kidal in northern Mali were released this evening," it said on Twitter. "Our colleagues are well and have been released unharmed without conditions. We thank all those who contributed to their release."

Mali has been gripped by a security and political crisis since 2012 when jihadist and separatist insurgencies broke out in the country's north.

Jihadists affiliated with al-Qaida and the Islamic State group have escalated their operations into central Mali, and the unrest has spread to neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso.

Thousands of civilians, police and troops have been killed across the region, and more than two million people have fled their homes.

The ICRC has been in Mali for over three decades. Its director of operations, Martin Schuepp, said last year that crime was rife in the country and posed a security challenge.

Security woes

Mali is ruled by a junta that last year forced France to remove troops deployed there a decade ago on an anti-jihadist mission.

In the absence of French troops, the junta has brought in Russia's Wagner group to boost government forces.

With government control weak in some parts of the country, kidnappings have become common. Motives range from ransom demands to acts of reprisal.

A World Health Organization doctor was abducted in Mali in January and was freed in February.

In May, armed men kidnapped three Italians and a Togolese national in the country's southeast.