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Sherbrooke woman Édith Blais, abducted in Burkina Faso, found alive in Mali

A Canadian woman and her Italian travelling companion who were suspected to have been abducted in West Africa 15 months ago have been found.

Head of the United Nations mission in Mali said Blais and her companion appear to have escaped

Édith Blais, centre, and Luca Tacchetto, left, meet with Canada's ambassador to Mali, Michael Elliott, after being found in Mali. (MINUSMA, the UN Mission in Mali)

A Canadian woman and her Italian travelling companion who were suspected to have been abducted in West Africa 15 months ago have been found.

Édith Blais, 34 of Sherbrooke, Que., and Luca Tacchetto 30, had been travelling by car in southwestern Burkina Faso, heading to Togo to do volunteer work, when they vanished around Dec. 15, 2018. They were last seen in the city of Bobo-Dioulasso in southwestern Burkino Faso.

The United Nations mission in Mali, MINUSMA, confirmed to CBC News that the pair is now free in neighbouring Mali.

Mahamat Saleh Annadif, the head of MINUSMA, said preliminary information suggested Blais and Tacchetto escaped their captors. A civilian vehicle then found them near Kidal and took them to a United Nations camp, he said.

Global Affairs Canada said it's aware of the report of their release.

"We look forward to Édith being able to return to Canada and reunite with her family and loved ones," Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said in a statement Saturday.

"The government of Canada will continue to engage Mali and Burkina Faso at the highest levels, and will work with international partners to pursue those responsible for this crime and bring them to justice."

Al-Qaeda and other militant groups have operated in northern Mali for more than a decade and have kidnapped a number of Western hostages, typically holding them until ransoms are paid.

Senior Liberal cabinet ministers met with Blais's family in Quebec's Eastern Townships region in January 2019 and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at the time he believed Blais was still alive.

Another Canadian, Kirk Woodman, was found dead in northern Burkina Faso in 2019, near the border with Mali and Niger. An executive with a Vancouver-based mining company, Woodman had been kidnapped a day earlier by gunmen as he worked on a gold mining project.

With files from The Canadian Press and CBC's Derek Stoffel

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