REGION DU CENTRE, BURKINA FASO – An elderly Australian woman kidnapped by al-Qaida-linked jihadis in Burkina Faso has been released after mediation by neighboring Niger, which is now leading efforts to secure the release of her husband, officials said Sunday.
Jocelyn Elliott, 84, and her husband, doctor Ken Elliott, 82, from Perth in Western Australia, were abducted in Burkina Faso close to the Niger border on the night of Jan. 15-16.
“To the Burkina and Niger authorities, I thank you for all your efforts and thank you for all you have done for us,” a pale and drawn-looking Jocelyn Elliott said as she appeared clad in a multicoloured robe on Niger television.
Niger television showed her seated alongside Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou in the southern town of Dosso, where he was campaigning ahead of a presidential poll on Feb. 21.
Issoufou confirmed that Niger had mediated but did not give details on either the circumstances or the location of her release.
Burkinabe Foreign Minister Alpha Barry said that Jocelyn Elliott would arrive back in Ouagadougou at 7:30 a.m. (0730 GMT) on Monday. A source said she was traveling on Issoufou’s presidential plane.
Earlier Barry revealed that Elliott had been released on Saturday in Niger.
“She was released thanks to the action of President Issoufou Mahamadou,” he said.
Issoufou added: “From the day they were kidnapped, the Burkina Faso authorities asked for our cooperation to obtain the couple’s freedom and since that date we have worked hard together. These efforts have achieved a first result — those who kidnapped the couple have agreed to free Jocelyn Elliott.
“I also hope her husband will be freed,” said Issoufou, who spaid tribute to the couple for providing medical services to local people in Burkina.
“I think those who abducted them should know the contribution this couple have made to the poorest people in our regions. I hope they will be back together soon and that Jocelyn’s husband will soon go free.”
It is not the first time that Issoufou has played a mediation role to obtain the freedom of hostages.
A team of Niger negotiators won the release of four French hostages kidnapped in 2010 in northern Niger amid hotly denied reports Paris paid a ransom. A further hostage was released from captivity in Mali in 2014 with France acknowledging cooperation from Mali and Niger.
Barry said the focus was now on securing the release of Ken Elliott.
“For now we know that her husband is alive and well. Now further negotiations will begin for his release and we will do everything to secure it,” said Barry, adding that “no ransom was paid or conditions imposed” by the kidnappers for the release of Jocelyn Elliott.
In a statement, the Elliott family said they were “deeply grateful” for Jocelyn’s release.
“We are trusting that the moral and guiding principles of those who have released our mother will also be applied to our elderly father who has served the community of Djibo and the Sahel for more than half his lifetime,” the statement said.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull thanked Niger and Burkina Faso for their efforts.
“I can confirm that our Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who’s been closely on top of this situation, has been speaking with the Elliott family in Australia, spoke to Mrs Elliott just a little while ago,” Turnbull told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Regarding Ken Elliott, Turnbull said: “We’re dealing with a difficult diplomatic situation and the Burkina Faso government is working very well on it and we’ll continue to stay in touch with them”.
The Elliotts moved to the impoverished West African nation in 1972 and ran a clinic in the dusty town of Djibo, close to the border with Mali and where local people in Djibo have posted on Facebook to plead for the couple’s release.
The Burkina government had said the pair were kidnapped in Baraboule, near the country’s borders with both Niger and Mali.
Their abduction coincided with a jihadi assault on an upmarket hotel in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou that left at least 30 people dead, including many foreigners.