An Italian missionary is among four people that have been released from the captivity of Islamic extremists in Mali.
Rev Pierluigi Maccalli, a Roman Catholic missionary priest from the African Missionary Society, was kidnapped from neighbouring Niger in 2018.
Freedom for Fr Pierluigi and three others came days after the Malian government released nearly 200 militants and sent them by plane to northern Mali, fuelling speculation of an imminent prisoner exchange that some fear could further destabilise the country.
It was not immediately known whether a ransom was paid, although extremist groups have long funded their operations with such payments from European governments.
In a tweet, the Italian bishops conference expressed "gratitude to those who worked for liberation as we continue to pray for those who are missing".
In April,Fr Pierluigi's brother was elated to have proof that he was still alive.A 23-second video showing the priest and another man was released by jihadists on 6th April, according Christian charity Aid to the Church in Need.
“I never expected to get news of this kind about my brother… [as] a great deal of time has passed without knowing anything," Fr Walter Maccalli, who is a priest in Foya, Liberia said.
“It’s great news, and we are delighted and hopeful that everything may turn out well.”
Meanwhile, a 75-year-old French aid worker held hostage for four years was among those freed and said she wants to return to her aid work with malnourished children despite the ordeal.
Relatives enveloped Sophie Petronin in a huge embrace after she descended from the plane at Villacoublay military airport, south west of Paris, where she was greeted by President Emmanuel Macron.
He expressed joy and relief at her release, thanked Malian authorities and promised that the French military would continue its fight against terrorism in West Africa.
Ms Pertonin said she had been treated relatively well during captivity.
Her account contrasted with that of fellow ex-hostage Soumaila Cisse, a prominent Malian politician who recounted months of arduous conditions before a precarious trip to their extraction point, arriving in Mali's capital 48 hours after being released.
"I hung on - I prayed a lot because I had a lot of time," Ms Petronin told reporters at the French embassy in Bamako.
"I transformed detention... into a spiritual retreat, if one can say that."
There was no immediate information about five other foreign hostages the Islamic militants from JNIM are believed to still hold.
Mr Cisse, who had been kidnapped earlier this year while campaigning for re-election as a legislator, told Mali's state broadcaster ORTM that after months of captivity things began to move quickly at end of September.
He said late on Thursday that he had made a proof of life video on September 26, and earlier this week he was freed, but security conditions prevented them from reaching the northern town of Tessalit for two more days.
"I spent six months in... very difficult living conditions, in almost permanent isolation, but I must confess that I was not subjected to any violence, neither physical nor verbal," Mr Cisse told ORTM.
Looking energetic and determined despite her ordeal, Ms Petronin told French broadcasters she wants to go back to the northern Malian town of Gao to see the children she was helping before she was kidnapped.
"I made a commitment to the children. For four years I haven't seen how the programmes are working," she said, referring to her work with orphaned and malnourished children.
"I will go to France, to Switzerland, and then I will come back to see what's happening here."
Additional reporting by Tola Mbakwe