One of the last Westerners still living in the northern Malian city of Timbuktu after the city was overrun by rebels earlier this month has been kidnapped, according to witnesses who saw her taken by gunmen.
The Swiss woman, referred to only as 'Beatrice' by locals describing her kidnapping by armed men to reporters, has lived in Timbuktu for a number of years.
"She is very well known in the town. She would walk around the town trying to convert people (to Christianity)," a resident of the town told Reuters, asking not to be named.
The rebels, a loose alliance of separatist nomad Tuaregs and local Islamists with ties to al Qaeda, took advantage of confusion that surrounded a March coup in the capital, Bamako, to take over Timbuktu. Gaining Timbuktu was a step in the rebels' push for a regional homeland in the vast desert region of Azawad.
Over the past five years, dozens of Westerners have been kidnapped by the al Qaeda rebels.
The country's new interim leader Dioncounda Traore, who was sworn in on Thursday, has pledged to fight Tuareg rebels and outlaws who have taken over the north of the country.
mz/mr (Reuters, AP, AFP)